IFAQ: The Emerald Claw

My new book Exploring Eberron is available now on the DM’s Guild. You can find a FAQ about it here. Today I want to look at a few questions about the Order of the Emerald Claw.

The Order of the Emerald Claw seem like terrible villains. While they’re sometimes compared to “The Nazis in Indiana Jones movies,” they don’t have the power base or support that made the Nazis a credible threat. If everyone hates them, how is it that they get away with anything? And what have they actually DONE that’s worse than the Swords of Liberty, anyway? The Kanon take on the Blood of Vol just makes this worse, because by the original 3.5 interpretation they at least had the support of the Blood of Vol religion, while Keith’s take on the Blood of Vol emphasizes that they don’t approve of the extreme actions of the Emerald Claw.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, I want to drill down on the narrative purpose of the Order of the Emerald Claw. There are MANY villains to choose from in Eberron. On one side of the spectrum we have the Lords of Dust and the Dreaming Dark. Both of these organizations are extremely powerful. Both have fiendish agents that can pose a challenge even to epic-level characters. Both have vast resources and far-reaching plans, but both are masters of subterfuge. Quori mind seeds and overlord cultists can be found in any organization, often with no obvious indication of their true allegiance. Given this, they are intended to be long-term villains. At low levels, adventurers who clash with them won’t even know what organization they are dealing with; it’s only at higher levels that they will start to realize just how widespread these powers are. Both organizations have plans that could transform Khorvaire itself. And in both cases, even once adventurers know that they are dealing with, they are SO vast that you can’t expect to bring them down in a single fight. On a fundamental level, players can’t hope to DESTROY the Lords of Dust; they can only hope to kick the can down the road, stopping their current plans and forcing them to return to their schemes for another century.

For a second tier of villain, you can bring in Dragonmarked Houses or nations themselves. These forces aren’t otherworldly, and their motives often aren’t mysterious; but because of their vast support it can be difficult for adventurers to oppose them. And in the case of nations, their motives may not be evil. If the Royal Eyes of Aundair are trying to obtain a magical weapon to help Aundair win the Next War, it’s entirely conceivable that there might be a wizard among the adventurers who studied at Arcanix and who actually thinks Aundair SHOULD win the Next War. These forces DO have vast support and thousands of people who believe that their actions are justified, and adventurers may need to think about the consequences of choosing a side. And likewise, adventurers likely can’t expect that through their actions they will destroy House Deneith or the nation of Aundair.

But perhaps you’re just starting a new campaign. The low level characters aren’t capable of fighting rakshasa. They don’t yet know enough about the world to appreciate the deep schemes of the Dreaming Dark, or the impact of making an enemy of House Deneith. You need a villain that’s easy to understand and who operates on a scale small enough for people to understand. Lucky for you, there are three groups specifically designed for this purpose.

THE AURUM are classic Bond villains. They’re rich and powerful enough to hire thugs or adventurers, but they don’t have the vast resources and international influence of the Dragonmarked Houses. Their goals are PERSONAL and SELFISH. The average Aurum Concordian isn’t trying to RULE THE WORLD; they’re trying to get a particular artifact for their collection, or to crush a business rival, or to simply increase their own wealth. Their motives are easy to understand. They have enough power to make life difficult for adventurers, but they aren’t ancient immortals or as well connected as Dragonmarked barons; if the players make an implacable enemy of a Concordian, they can simple go to a new city for a while. In short, the Aurum are EASY and OBVIOUS villains: people with enough power to either threaten low level adventurers or to hire them, but intentionally NOT as powerful as Dragonmarked Houses, let alone the Lords of Dust. WITH THAT BEING SAID… If the adventurers love the Aurum and you WANT to have that low-level villain evolve into a greater threat over time, you can choose to engage the Cabinet of Shadows, revealing that the Aurum ISN’T just a collection of wealthy narcissists and DOES have a greater agenda. But that’s simply an option; MOST concordians aren’t part of the Cabinet, and their actions and motives can be as shallow as you want.

THE CULTS OF THE DRAGON BELOW are irrational and can appear ANYWHERE. They aren’t a vast, monolithic force; they are a myriad of small cells, and each one is driven by its own unique visions. Even two cults tied to the same daelkyr may have no awareness of or connection to one another. Their goals can be as grand or as focused as the story requires, and could be as simple as a handful of murder-sacrifices or as grand as a ritual that could destroy a city. But as every cell IS unique, they are a force whose goals are typically easily understood and that can be completely defeated. Defeating the Transcendent Flesh sect in Wroat doesn’t defeat DYRRN, but that particular cult can be conclusively eliminated. Again, in comparison to the Dreaming Dark or the Lords of Dust, you can think of them as “Monster of the Week” villains; their schemes AREN’T necessarily part of some vast grand scheme, they HAVEN’T anticipated your interference; and if you defeat them today, this particular cult WON’T be back to cause trouble. On the other hand, if you WANT that long term threat to evolve over the campaign, the daelkyr play the same role here that the Shadow Cabinet does for the Aurum. In fighting the cults, low-level adventurers will come to learn about the daelkyr, who are a greater threat that may challenge them at higher levels—but that doesn’t change the fact that they have conclusively triumphed over THIS ONE CULT.

THE ORDER OF THE EMERALD CLAW are classic pulp villains. When they are described as “Nazis in Indiana Jones Movies” the emphasis is on IN MOVIES, not “historical Nazis.” I think a better comparison is Cobra Command from the GI Joe franchise. The Emerald Claw doesn’t have the support of any nation. There is nothing sympathetic about its agenda. The Emerald Claw serves a narcissistic lich who is willing to drown innocents in blood if it helps her get the power she seeks. And like the Cults, the Emerald Claw is a “Monster of the Week” villain. Its schemes are focussed and often exactly what they appear. Its minions can come in all levels of power; a group of 1st level adventurers can face a changeling necromancer who’s just PRETENDING to be a vampire and his squad of goons, while a group of 10th level adventurers can face a squad of ACTUAL vampires. You could use the Emerald Claw as villains in a single adventure and then never use them again, or you can use them as recurring villains, until the adventurers ultimately find a way to destroy Lady Illmarrow herself… because unlike The Dreaming Dark, the Lords of Dust, or even a dragonmarked house, it’s plausible that a group of adventurers COULD defeat Lady Illmarrow and truly destroy the Order of the Emerald Claw. The Emerald Claw is a FINITE villain, whose goals are petty and focused. And in specifically comparing it to the Swords of Liberty, the point is that the Swords of Liberty may use violent methods, but they have a rational goal; they want to affect political change. We never expect players to have any question that opposing the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do, any more than GI Joe will ever say “Huh, Cobra might actually have a good point” or than Indiana Jones will say “Maybe we SHOULD give the Nazis the Ark of the Covenant this time.”

So focusing specifically on the Emerald Claw, it’s INTENTIONAL that everyone hates them, that they don’t have the support of nations, that they can’t field an army. They are a terrorist force that can appear anywhere to cause chaos, but they DON’T have the power to, for example, conquer a nation (or even a large city). If you oppose them, YOU aren’t making an enemy of a nation or choosing a side in the Next War.

As for “What have they done that’s so evil,” what do you WANT them to have done? The point is that they are a terrorist organization that uses necromancy as a weapon. Using my OWN campaign as an example, I recently ran a campaign set in Callestan that involved the Emerald Claw…

  • In the first session, an agent of the Emerald Claw paid a PC courier to carry a time-locked bag bag of holding to a crowded tavern, thinking they were going to meet a client. Instead, the bag opened and turned out to be full of hostile skeletons, and the PCs had to protect the patrons from these undead.
  • Next, a friend of the adventurers was infected with a zombie virus set to trigger when the victim entered a micro-manifest zone tied to Mabar, which turned out to be in a local dreamlily den. The adventurers were able to contain the outbreak, but they couldn’t save everyone—and there was no saving their friend.
  • Next, the Emerald Claw used the micro-Mabar zone to throw a few blocks of Callestan into the Hinterlands of the Endless Night; the players had to find a way to escape, also openly clashing with agents of the Claw for the first time.

The point is that these acts were all SMALL SCALE. The Emerald Claw was testing necromantic weapons on a captive populace that no one (aside from the PCs) cared about. The EC could well be planning to unleash these techniques on a larger target—spreading a contagious zombie virus across Sharn itself—but the adventurers were dealing with a small, localized problem. And ultimately, they could locate and defeat the necromancer responsible for these tragedies. It could be that that necromancer WOULD return in a future adventure in a new undead form—with greater powers to challenge the more powerful player characters—but the adventurers could absolutely wipe out that CELL and feel a legitimate sense of triumph, which can be more difficult when dealing with the Lords of Dust and their far-reaching schemes.

But patriotism… OK, but haven’t we said that many of the soldiers of the Emerald Claw are Karrnathi patriots? Indeed… Karrnathi patriots who want the Queen of the Dead to take over Karrnath and then lead it to conquer Khorvaire. These “patriots” are extremists whose goals aren’t supposed to be sympathetic. This isn’t like the Swords of Liberty, where you might introduce a cell leader whose actions are driven by the cruel actions of a local noble who tormented their vassals. Likewise, if you WANT some shades of gray with your necromancy, you can use a Blood of Vol sect who AREN’T tied to the Emerald Claw, and who may have legitimate grievances. Whether or not they are driven by patriotism, Emerald Claw agents ultimately want the living people of Khorvaire to be ground under the skeletal bootheel of the Queen of the Dead; this isn’t supposed to be some kind of rational “OK, maybe they’re got a point here” situation. THIS is why kanon divorces them from the Blood of Vol; because as a faith, the Blood of Vol has many shades of gray and sympathetic aspects, while the Emerald Claw is supposed to be an absolute evil.

But Erandis is a tragic figure… Certainly! I’ve explored this in a number of other articles. But her personal tragedy isn’t supposed to justify the horrors she inflicts in pursuit of her goals. Again, from a design perspective, the Emerald Claw are supposed to be absolute villains; the players are never expect to say “Wait, we shouldn’t fight them until we know more.” While the personal tragedy of Erandis helps to explain how she went down this dark path, she still went down that path. What suggested with the saga of the Queen of the Dead is the possibility that if she achieves her goal and truly ascends, that she could BECOME a benevolent entity and perhaps even feel remorse for her actions, but that’s supposed to be a wacky twist, not a justification for the terrors she inflicted on innocents in her quest.

So the Emerald Claw aren’t SUPPOSED to be the most powerful or nefarious villains of the setting; on the contrary, they are specifically useful BECAUSE they operate on a small scale, with actions that are typically both clearly reprehensible (starting a zombie outbreak in an innocent neighborhood) and small enough that they can be dealt with by a party of adventurers. They’re an opening act who can appear any time you need a quick and easy villain and who help prepare the players to take on the REAL villains of the campaign, whose schemes are more subtle and far-reaching. Likewise, all of these three groups—the Aurum, the Cults of the Dragon Below, the Emerald Claw—could themselves turn out to be unwitting tools of the Lords of Dust!

Were all of the original members Karrnathi knights or have there been supporters and laymen members from its creation?

The organization takes its name from the Seeker chivalric order that served in the war, and uses the reputation of that original order to present its members as Karrnathi patriots opposing the weak leadership of Kaius III. But from the very beginning, the actual members of that order were only a fraction (albeit an elite core) of the new Order of the Emerald Claw. Lady Illmarrow had been building her power for centuries, and the Emerald Claw is just a convenient rallying point for her forces… and remember that Illmarrow herself isn’t a Seeker of the Divinity Within! So from the very begining, Illmarrow’s operatives included undead lieutenants and retainers from her domain in Farlnen, along with thugs recruited From Lhazaar Seeker offshoots… reinforced with Karrns angry about Kaius’s peace initiative and lured by dreams of power in the new Empire of the Queen of the Dead. Essentially, there ARE misguided Karrnathi patriots and Seekers in the Order, including original members of the Chivalric Order. But many of its members—especially in its inner circle—seek only personal power in the service of Lady Illmarrow and have no interest in Karrnath or the Divinity Within. The cause of Karrnathi patriotism is a convenient figurehead that lets the order APPEAR to have a legitimate political motive, but they ultimately serve only the Queen of the Dead.

Would you run a campaign of emerald claw player characters fighting Kaius since he is not a real patriot nor a real bov believer?

Now, I wouldn’t. When I want to run a story that’s about patriotic Seekers whofeel betrayed by Kaius, I use the Order of the Onyx Skull—another Seeker chivalric order that was disbanded. These are my go-to group to explore anyone with legitimate grievances who are actually trying to make Karrnath a better place and to help Seekers. From a design perspective, the Emerald Claw isn’t SUPPOSED to have this sort of depth. It’s a front that has been entirely corrupted to serve the purposes of Lady Illmarrow, who is neither a Karrnathi patriot nor a believer in the Divinity Within, and anyone who serves her is either a willing tool or a dupe.

With that said, I ran a campaign in which one of the PCs WAS a paladin of the Blood of Vol who had been trained by Lady Illmarrow and who specifically wanted to bring down Kaius because he’s not a real patriot or a real BoV believer. But from the very beginning the PLAYER knew that his character was a dupe being used as a tool by Illmarrow. His whole idea for his story arc was that if he succeeded in bringing down Kaius he’d REALIZE he’d made a terrible mistake and would ultimately have to battle Illmarrow and the Emerald Claw. So the character wasn’t somehow proving that the Emerald Claw wasn’t so bad; the player KNEW the character was a fool and a tool, but wanted that revelation and redemption to be part of his story arc.

For Emerald Claw members who know that the order is loaded by Vol, what are their motivations?

Forget the name “Vol” for a moment. Most members of the Order of the Emerald Claw know that their order is led by Lady Illmarrow, the infamous lich also known as the Queen of the Dead. Some believe that Illmarrow will take over Karrnath and then lead Karrnath to conquer Khorvaire. They want this because they believe their leaders are weak and because they believe that they will hold positions of power in this future empire of the undead. Many others don’t care about Karrnath or the Blood of Vol, and are interested PURELY in the personal power they can gain. Some are necromancers who yearn for the arcane secrets Illmarrow can teach them. Others simply hunger for the power and immortality of the vampire or the death knight. Their motivations aren’t supposed to be sympathetic; again, if I want a complex story, I’ll use the Onyx Skull. So if your brother has joined the Emerald Claw, it means your brother dreams of living in a world ruled by a ruthless lich-queen and is willing to kill innocents to make it come to pass. Maybe he hates life. Maybe he thinks mortal rulers are weak and misguided. Maybe he wants revenge on someone. But again, if he’s joined the Emerald Claw, it’s because he is willing to kill innocents so a ruthless lich-queen might someday rule the world.

You mentioned there could be other Seeker chivalric orders besides the Emerald Claw and Ebon Skull. If you were to make new seeker orders in what ways could they be different? Like could there be orders more focused on healing or fighting cults of dragon below ? Maybe one led by Alhoon, a undead mind flayer?

First of all, I made a mistake before; the honorable Seeker order I mentioned is the Order of the Onyx Skull, not Ebon; I’ve fixed it above. To the point, though: There are other Karrnathi chivalric orders. The sourcebook The Forge of War describes six of them: The Adamant Fang, the Blackened Sky, the Conquering Fist, the Emerald Claw, the Inviolate Way, and the Onyx Skull. While these do have some specialization—the Adamant Fang is light cavalry, the Blackened Sky focused on artillery, the Onyx Skull were the foremost necromancers—they are all general military forces, so I wouldn’t go too specialized. It’s logical to think that Karrnath had medics, but I don’t think they were part of a chivalric order. So, you can definitely create new orders, using Forge of War as inspiration. Note that only those closely associated with Seekers were actually disbanded; per FoW, the other four (Fang, Fist, Sky, Way) are all still in service.

I wouldn’t see an alhoon as being placed in charge of an actual Karrnathi chivalric order. That would be like the Pentagon appointing an actual Martian as a general. The Chivalric orders are literally the pride of Karrnath; appointing an alien monster as a commander would be a very bizarre choice. However, I could definitely see Lady Illmarrow working with an alhoon and giving it command of a branch of the Emerald Claw. So I wouldn’t make that a DIFFERENT order, I’d make it a specific unit of the Emerald Claw, which has cells and units scattered across Khorvaire.

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49 thoughts on “IFAQ: The Emerald Claw

  1. In ExE, you expanded on the Queen of All Tears, whose precise nature I won’t say here in case of spoilers. But if the EC/Erandis were to find out about that, might that change their goals? Would Erandis suddenly want very badly to get to Mabar, or is she now focused to exclusion on her goal to become Queen of the Dead?
    Basically, how close are Erandis’s ties to her pre-lich life, and does she still care about any of the same things she did when she was alive?

    • How close are Erandis’s ties to her pre-lich life, and does she still care about any of the same things she did when she was alive?
      Erandis never had a normal life. She was born in a top-secret program, kept hidden from the world for her entire life, never knowing anyone but her family and never having any purpose other than to prepare to harness her mark. When her mark manifested, it was a moment of ultimate triumph: she was the culmination of all they had been working on. She would wield the power of a goddess. And then she failed. Before she could master her mark, she was slain. When she returned as a lich, she found that her entire bloodline had been eradicated to ensure that no one could develop the powers she was supposed to have. And she discovered that she still had her mark, but that she couldn’t use it.

      Erandis’s entire purpose is to FULFILL HER DESTINY—to give the sacrifice of her family MEANING. Because right now, she is an embodiment of their FAILURE. If she’d mastered her powers before dying, the entire world would be different, but she failed. Imagine she discovered her parents were alive. I think the LAST think she’d want is to see them, because WHAT HAS SHE ACCOMPLISHED? She’s had two thousand years and she’s STILL A FAILURE. In my opinion Erandis is UTTERLY CONSUMED by her quest to restore and master her mark. She will sacrifice anyone and anything. She will slaughter innocents——just as HER innocent family was slaughtered! But she wouldn’t suddenly stop and say “I just wanna see my daddy” if she discovered the Emerald Claw was alive, because among other things she’d be ASHAMED to see him when she is still a failure.

      As for the Queen of All Tears, consider that she’s not a mortal who just happens to have been given some cool extra power. She is a living embodiment of ultimate tragic loss, who now feeds on the tragic pain of others. She is utterly consumed by her own misery, trapped by her own failings. it’s not like she’s going to have a fun tea party because an old friend happens to show up. Perhaps if the events that led to her tragic death could be undone—if she could believe that she HADN’T failed, that her quest hadn’t been in vain and that the deaths of thousands weren’t entirely on her shoulders—she could know peace. But again, she’s NOT mortal in any way; she’s the core of a mortal spirit used as a template to create an embodiment of tragic suffering who seeks to bring that pain to others.

      WITH THAT SAID… as always, tell the story you want to tell!

      • In light of that, seeing the Queen of All Tears sounds like the LAST thing Erandis would want and even like something she would dread and actively work to prevent if Erandis knew she existed and the details of her backstory.

      • So she still has the mark but can’t use it…but what if she somehow got a hold of a dragonmark focus item for the Mark of Death? These items generally just require you to have the mark right?

        • A dragonmark focus item amplifies the power of the mark; that’s WHY it requires the mark. It’s not simply a security feature; the mark is the power source for the item. If the mark has no power — as is the case with Illmarrow — it won’t allow you to use a focus item.

      • I’ve always felt that Erandis was a tragic figure, isolated growing up, and (I think you have stated in other posts) dying as an adolescent. And then adding that family pressure!

        I’ve toyed with a campaign that revolves around whether she can be redeemed. If her phylactery is found, and she is resurrected to have a living mark, what would she do? She would no longer be a creature of Mabar, but she would still be a powerful teenager with all that baggage…

      • So basically Lady Illmarrow’s motivation can be summed up with the phrase “that which redeems consumes”

        I hadn’t considered that as I’m usually more interested in using groups like the Emerald Claw as a cat’s paw for some of the second tier antagonists you mentioned

  2. Were all of the original members Karrnathi knights or have there been supporters and laymen members from its creation?

    • The organization takes its name from the Seeker chivalric order that served in the war, and uses the reputation of that original order to present its members as Karrnathi patriots opposing the weak leadership of Kaius III. But from the very beginning, the actual members of that order were only a fraction (albeit an elite core) of the new Order of the Emerald Claw. Lady Illmarrow had been building her power for centuries, and the Emerald Claw is just a convenient rallying point for her forces… and remember that Illmarrow herself isn’t a Seeker of the Divinity Within! So from the very begining, Illmarrow’s operatives included undead lieutenants and retainers from her domain in Farlnen, along with thugs recruited From Lhazaar Seeker offshoots… reinforced with Karrns angry about Kaius’s peace initiative and lured by dreams of power in the new Empire of the Queen of the Dead.

      So again, there are members of that original order with the EC, but they aren’t the majority; it’s just a figurehead that helps the order APPEAR to have a righteous Karrnathi cause.

  3. Hi Keith! I am pretty aware of the role of OEC as pulp villains and I loved the article. I still would love to ask you more about the patriotic motivations of the order.
    The oec is supposed to be a group of fanatic nationalists of karrnath. Is it just a mask or most of members truly think to be Patriots betrayed by their own king?
    Would you run a campaign of emerald claw player characters fighting Kaius since he is not a real patriot nor a real bov believer?
    Last but not least: for the emerald claw members who know that the order is loaded by vol, what are their motivations? (I think it could be interesting to play the story “you find out that your brother joined the emerald claw, can you save him? Can you UNDERSTAND him?)

    • I’ve added answers to your questions to the end of the main article. The main point is that if I want ambiguity and shades of gray in my story, I won’t use the Emerald Claw, I’ll use the Ebon Skull or another Seeker Order. The narrative purpose of the Emerald Claw IS to be an absolute, reliable evil.

  4. What makes you place the Aurum in the third tier of antagonist organizations? In your previous articles on the Aurum on this blog, you make out the Aurum to be decidedly more capable of opposing nations and the dragonmarked houses.

    • The Aurum itself has tiers. The SHADOW CABINET is a powerful conspiracy that could oppose Dragonmarked Houses. The AURUM is a fraternal order comprised of individuals who have wealth or influence. Looking to that last article I wrote about the Aurum, I said…
      At its base, the Aurum is a society of wealthy and influential people. While the Aurum works together for the common good of its members, it’s not a tight-knit conspiracy like the Lords of Dust or the Dreaming Dark
      Adding…
      Need a powerful foe for the players… who’s not TOO powerful? An Aurum concordian has power and influence, but can be driven by entirely selfish or eccentric goals. They aren’t trying to conquer the world; they’re trying to drive down property values in High Walls so they can buy a block of tenements on the cheap. If an Aurum concordian wants the Orb of Dol Azur it probably ISN’T because they’ll use it to kill everyone in Sharn; it’s just that they need it to complete their collection.
      Again, if you WANT to make the Aurum a worthy foe for high level characters or WANT it to have world-shaking schemes, that’s what the Shadow Cabinet is for. But the typical Aurum Concordian would be, say Caspar Gutman from The Maltese Falcon, not Doctor Doom.

  5. If the Order of the Emerald Claw is not, in fact, supposed to be used as minions in line with Erandis’s more tragic side, then what minions should be used to support Erandis’s more tragic side? I cannot see the Bloodsails acting far inland, let alone as covert operatives in major cities.

    • If the Order of the Emerald Claw is not, in fact, supposed to be used as minions in line with Erandis’s more tragic side, then what minions should be used to support Erandis’s more tragic side?

      I’m not sure I understand the question. It’s not that there are any minions that specifically support the Tragedy of Erandis, it’s that the Tragedy of Erandis is itself insufficient to justify the actions of Erandis. While individual DMs can go anywhere they want, Erandis is not SUPPOSED to be a sympathetic villain. You might understand her pain. You might feel sorry for her. But she would still murder every living creature in the Five Nations if it would let her achieve her goal. it doesn’t matter what minions you use; Erandis is a ruthless, deadly villain.

  6. Why does the Emerald Claw stage events such as massive zombie outbreaks to begin with? What do they stand to gain from such cataclysmic events?

    • The ultimate goal of Erandis is to find a way to restore and master the power of her dragonmark. To this end, she is constantly seeking to advance the study of necromancy and to harness new forms of power. If she unleashes a massive zombie outbreak it might be that everyone slain in the outbreak has a fragment of their soul channeled into some sort of soul vessel. Or it could be that she’s actually harnessing the energy of the FEAR that the attack causes in mortals. Or it could be that it’s just an experiment that proves a single necromantic principle she wants to test — that the people slain in the event are little more than fruit flies in a grand experiment. Ultimately, it’s up to the DM to decide how the event advances her goals, but the general answer is “it’s part of her necromantic studies.”

      It’s worth noting that her MINIONS believe that this is part of a quest that will ultimately lead them to power — that they are testing new weapons and techniques that will make them unstoppable. Because, again, many of her FOLLOWERS believe that she wants one day conquer the world, whereas in fact she is solely interested in conquering death.

  7. Since it is known that Lady Illmarrow resides upon Farlnen I am just curious what you think Prince Shaen Tasil (Prince of the Bloodsail Principality of elves based off Farlnen Island) position with regard to Lady Illamrrow is?

    In the past you’ve written that she takes a neutral stance in most things politically and often is seen as a neutral third party within the Principalities, and yet Lady Illmarrow operates out of her territory. Similarly while Lady Illmarrow is part of The Grim she does not rule it, nor do they know her true identity. I’m just curious how Lady Illmarrow’s actions reflect on her neighbors.

    • Can’t edit the post
      “What do you think Prince Shaen Tasil’s position with regard to Lady Illmarrow is?”

    • Can’t edit the post and my attempt to follow up is pinging as a duplicate
      “What do you think [Shaen’s] position with regard to Lady Illmarrow is?” Is what I meant in the first paragraph

  8. You talk about using the Emerald Claw as an antagonist in Sharn, but how do they actually work in Sharn? The Sharn: City of Towers books makes out both Dala Arand and Jesel Tarra’az (who is strangely not an ir’ despite seemingly being noble?) to be passive agents who merely support visiting Claw agents; is Sharn’s branch of the Emerald Claw really so reliant on traveling agents?

    For that matter, the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide makes mention of the Skullborn in Aerenal working with the Emerald Claw. How can the Skullborn in Aerenal possibly work with the Emerald Claw without the Undying Court taking notice of these obvious, necromantic interlopers on their island and instantly smiting the offending parties?

    • I imagine the Emerald Claw would offer indirect support like funneling necromantic materials to the Skullborn (or Stillborn in 3.5E). Demise is listed as a potential NPC from Aerenal who belongs to the Order of the Emerald Claw, so there’s definite precedent for recruiting Skullborn.

      Magic of Eberron calls the Skullborn the pawns of the Blood of Vol and says forces like the vigilant sentinels are working to counter their influence in Aerenal (probably more the Emerald Claw than the spread of the actual religion). I know Keith didn’t work on that book, but I like the idea that interested parties are aware of broad Skullborn activity and waiting for reasons to intervene.

    • The Sharn: City of Towers books makes out both Dala Arand and Jesel Tarra’az to be passive agents who merely support visiting Claw agents; is Sharn’s branch of the Emerald Claw really so reliant on traveling agents?

      Both Dala and Jesel are SPIES. They aren’t supposed to be involved in active operations; they’re supposed to gather information and provide resources, and to be careful NOT to be involved in ways that could be traced. The Emerald Claw can target criminals in Callestan without drawing attention. But when they unleash their zombie attack in Skyway, or set off a necrotic resonator in the University District? Then the Dark Lanterns, Medani, and others will be brought to bear, and the people involved will want to be far away. So yes, the Emerald Claw is ALWAYS reliant on traveling agents for active operations.

      • I would be interested in hearing out your ideas on Skullborn and Emerald Claw activities in Aerenal, and how there can be any rebels or interlopers in Aerenal at all given the power of the Undying Court.

        • While this is definitely a subject for a focused, longer article, a few quick thoughts come to mind. The Undying Court has great power, but we don’t talk about it MONITORING THE PEOPLE. What’s been said before is that the Ascendant Counselors generally spend their time astrally traveling or studying the Prophecy or other mysteries of the cosmos. They can use their powers when a serious threat arises — like attacking dragons — but they normally don’t use that power to MONITOR THE PEOPLE. I don’t actually see Aerenal as an oppressive dictatorship like Riedra, Zilargo, or for that matter, the Valraean Protectorate. People are encouraged to follow tradition, but they aren’t actively punished if they don’t; among other things, we’ve specifically called out that Aereni can leave to become Tairnadal and vice versa. I see Aereni society being driven by aspiration rather than force—you follow tradition because mastering the traditions is how you can earn a place in the noble line and ultimately the Undying Court. But if you DON’T follow the right path, the fact that you’ll never be in the line or the Court IS punishment. Your elders will certainly try to set you straight, but they don’t need the Court to unleash its godlike power to FORCE it upon you. And keep in mind that it’s the Sibling Kings who rule Aerenal, NOT the Undying Court. The Court provides the power that PROTECTS the island, but they truly are advisors and protectors, not tyrants.

          A crucial point on this is THE LINE OF VOL. Consider that Vol and the Undying Court coexisted for nearly TWENTY THOUSAND YEARS, despite the fact that the line of Vol practiced Mabaran necromancy and didn’t revere the Court. One theory is that the purge of Vol was an excuse used by the Court to eliminate this rival, but my point is that THEY NEEDED AN EXCUSE; it took the unprecedented creation of an apex dragonmark for the Court to actively move against them. When it DID, it did so with absolute brutality, but again, they coexisted for twenty thousand years before that.

          So I think that’s a point with the Skullborn. Being a rebellious elf-equivalent-of-a-teenager isn’t a capital crime in Aerenal; I’m sure that their parents hope that they’ll grow out of it in a few decades. And consider that ONLY THE LINE OF VOL was actually eradicated in the war; Vol’s ALLIES were given the chance to bow to the Court, and those who refused were exiled. So a Skullborn cell that does something that’s bad but not UNFORGIVEABLE might very well be exiled rather than killed or imprisoned… which is, IIRC, the backstory of Demise from the 3.5 ECS.

          Basically, the Undying Court can repel almost any ATTACK on Aerenal. But they AREN’T like the Thousand Eyes of Riedra. They aren’t using their power to oppress or monitor their people. The example of the Line of Vol is an extreme case that built up over thousands of years and was only finally triggered when Vol DID do something that legitimately threatened the balance of magic and the Prophecy.

          Minor side note: The Aereni and the Tairnadal are very different. Tairnadal culture is essentially one giant boot camp, and they DON’T tolerate teenage rebellion — although even there, what we’ve said is that if you don’t conform, they’ll just kick you out and you could go become Aereni! Generally I think most Aereni DO follow tradition because they WANT to ascend to the Court… but part of what we’ve said about the Skullborn is that they are trying to find their own path to immortality. And again, that’s something the line of Vol was allowed to do for twenty thousand years until they finally went too far!

  9. I love the Emerald Claw, I love that in a setting as grey and nuanced as Eberron, where monsters build a new nation and dream demons bring peace and stability at the cost of freedom, that there’s still a designated villain that can fill a pulp villain role

    There’s no question, I just appreciate the Emerald Claw

    • Building off the examples provided in the books it would be neat to have each of the members of the Crimson Covenant represent a separate sect of the Blood of Vol: Malevanor for the Seeker branch in Karrnath, Torven d’Medani for the Cult of Life branch in Fairhaven, Baszilio for the Widening Gyre branch in Breland, and then someone for the Keepers of Blood. Make Saeria Lantol the missing 13th member stuck in Dreadhold and voila!

    • It’s a different topic for me, more about the Blood of Vol. With that said, it IS the case that the members of the Covenant who support the Emerald Claw are a source of resources and influence for Claw operations.

  10. “if the players make an implacable enemy of a Concordian, they can simple go to a new city for a while”

    Would this apply to the Boromar, or do they have the resources to strike against PCs that have really annoyed them even if they left Sharn?

    “We never expect players to have any question that opposing the Emerald Claw is the right thing to do, any more than GI Joe will ever say “Huh, Cobra might actually have a good point””

    Well there’s their stance on paper fiat currency in episode 31, “Money to Burn”…

    • Would this apply to the Boromar, or do they have the resources to strike against PCs that have really annoyed them even if they left Sharn?

      It depends what you mean by influence. The Boromar have money. They could hire thugs in lots of places; they aren’t ENTIRELY helpless. But they don’t have local infrastructure in other cities. They don’t have political influence as they do in Sharn. They don’t have EYES like they do in Sharn. So in part it depends what the PCs do. If they go to Wroat and make a lot of noise, get on the front page of the chronicles, the Boromar could hire a few swords. If they go to Fairhaven and don’t make a big splash, the Boromar probably wouldn’t waste the resources that would be required to track them.

  11. Btw, words of “Queen of the Dead” and “Queen of Death” are interchangeable? My impression was that “Queen of Death” is the title of a mysterious EC leader.

    • It’s inconsistent canon. Both the ECG and Rising From The Last War use both terms in reference to Illmarrow. The Queen of the Dead is concretely the title of the immortal in Dolurrh, but both titles are apparently used for the powerful lich guiding the Emerald Claw.

      • Considering how much more confusing it would be if those two titles were held by two different NPCs, I’m OK with that. 🙂

  12. Could you see a story that after the PC stopped Vol, probably with her real death, they going after Undying Council and the Dragons?

    Something as “Ok, what Vol tried to do was wrong and we are right in stop her, but this two groups are really dangerous and some justice need be made here.”

    I don’t know, maybe it is not so easy to do it, but I like the idea of a campaign that is Eradis Vol focus almost entirely, but the final enemies are Undying Council and dragons (of course, in both cases probably a direct fight is not the solution) after players discover her real story.

    • Maybe turn it the other way around. In the course of dealing with Erandis the party learn the details of her family’s research, and the Undying Council and the dragons now consider them to know too much to be allowed to live.

    • Could you see a story that after the PC stopped Vol, probably with her real death, they going after Undying Council and the Dragons?

      In principle? Sure. But you’re essentially talking about the two most powerful forces in the setting. Beyond that, what do you mean by “go after” the dragons? What would justice look like?

      • What makes you say this in particular? The dragons, I can see, but I did not expect the Undying Court to be higher-tier than, say, the Lords of Dust, the Dreaming Dark, the daelkyr, and so on.

        • How do you define “power”? The Undying Court wields less power IN THE WORLD OVERALL than, say, the Dreaming Dark. But in terms of “I’m going to go to Shae Mordai and fight them”? They are DEFINITELY one of the most powerful forces you could face. Consider that in the 3.5 ECS, a daelkyr is listed at CR 20, and an INDIVIDUAL ASCENDANT COUNCILOR is CR 18. There are dozens—if not hundreds—of Ascendant Councilors in Shae Mordai, bolstered by the power of Irian, and we’ve further said that they wield GREATER power when they act in concert — divine power that goes beyond tactical statistics. One of the common reasons given for why the dragons attack Aerenal is because they are teaching the young how to fight a being with the power of an overlord.

          The catch is that the power of the Undying Court is GEOGRAPHICALLY LIMITED. They can’t exert that power beyond Aerenal, aside from channeling power to clerics and paladins. Thus they are less of a THREAT than the Lords of Dust or the Dreaming Dark, and have less INFLUENCE in the world than either of those forces. And sure, if you run into a random Undying Councilor — like the ambassador in Stormreach — you could definitely destroy them. But if you fight THE COURT ITSELF? If you face it in Shae Mordai? Now you’re talking about succeeding where entire flights of dragons have failed. In my opinion, facing the full Court — not just a random Ascendant Councilor, but the Court itself? That’s DEFINITELY more powerful than any daelkyr, and at least as powerful as a single overlord.

          • (In fairness, I think the CR 20 daelkyr in the original ECS is somewhat underpowered and reflects a “generic daelkyr” — as shown in the current books, Dyrrn, Belashyrra, and the other top six are a little more powerful and unique than that.)

          • What is stopping the Undying Court from extending its power into, for example, Shae Lias, where there is absolutely a strong and vibrant community of loyal and pious Aereni elves?

            And what is stopping the Undying Court from using its power to eradicate undesired manifest zones from Aerenal, like the Mabaran manifest zones, or whatever is afflicting the Madwood?

  13. Does the Emerald Claw have any particular disdain for dragons (beyond what any evil organization would) given Vol’s history with them?

    (In other news, today is the 20th anniversary of 3rd Edition.)

    • No. Remember that common members of the Emerald Claw don’t know anything about the history of Erandis Vol; Lady Illmarrow has no particular history with dragons.

      • Thanks. (Was more thinking she’d instill the attitude, since she’s literally written their religion, than it coming from them knowing the history)

        • Was more thinking she’d instill the attitude, since she’s literally written their religion, than it coming from them knowing the history
          Actually, Erandis didn’t create the faith of the Blood of Vol; it evolved from a blending of the tales and techniques of elves exiled from Aerenal after the destruction of the Line of Vol with local faiths and traditions, which is why the common BoV faith refers to the Sovereigns rather than the dragons or Undying Court. Erandis was in deep hiding, mastering her magical powers (she wasn’t a 16th level wizard when she started out!) when the faith was formed; she simply discovered it and took advantage of it later in life (well, undeath).

          Having said that, you’re right to THINK she created it, as Rising From The Last War says “The Blood of Vol (was) founded by Erandis d’Vol, an elf from Aerenal.” This is an ERROR that was added in editing (the original sentencde was simply “The Blood of Vol is a grim faith”) and is flawed in three ways. She DIDN’T found the faith, the line of Vol never used the “d” prefix, and calling Erandis “an elf from Aerenal” is a huge understatement. But note that page 297 of Rising From The Last War has a sidebar specifically calling out that Lday Illmarrow DIDN’T found the faith and that its followers don’t know about or worship Erandis. So it’s contradictory canon IN the book, but as the person who wrote both sections I can tell you that it’s the statement that Erandis “d’Vol” created the faith that is an error.

          • For what’s it’s worth, this particular error is especially frustrating to me. The design team made a specific choice to present Erandis Vol as “Lady Illmarrow” in Chapter 6 specifically to help avoid the confusion that the Blood of Vol isn’t specifically tied to ERANDIS Vol. I’m annoyed because it means Chapter 2 contradicts Chapter 6, and beyond that, calling her “Erandis d‘Vol” — when the line was destroyed before the dragonmarked houses existed — is a further error.

  14. Well, as I use House d’Vol as one of my extra Dragon Marked house, that erroe do not bother me. (Basically, I had the Vol line surviving in exile thanks to the sacrifice of Erandis parents which basically crippled both Areanal and Argonnessen.

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