Review: The Grasp of the Emerald Claw

Copyright Robert Defendi © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"One of the strengths of any Cordell adventure is the level of thought he puts into realistic detail."

Bruce R. Cordell wrote this adventure. I've liked everything written by Bruce R. Cordell (In fairness, there are a few pieces that I don't rave about). This piece is no exception.

This is the conclusion of the story begun in The Forgotten Forge in the Eberron Campaign Setting and continued through Shadows of the Last War and Whispers of the Vampire's Blade. I haven't had the chance to read the last two adventures in this series (much less review them) so I'll review this as a stand-alone piece.

In this series, the characters, working for house Cannith, are trying to assemble four schemas, which together compose a powerful artifact called the Creation Pattern, a left over from the Age of Giants. A group called the Emerald Claw is also searching for these schemas. So what keeps this from being a standard "MacGuffin" plot?

The Creation Pattern is evil.

After the initial incident of The Grasp of the Emerald Claw, the enemy possesses all three of the known schema and begins searching for the fourth. The characters must be the first to get to the last schema. It's their only hope to stop the Emerald Claw (and perhaps find the first three pieces). No one realizes that Creation Pattern has plans of its own.

The resulting adventure has the feel of the old pulp adventures. Picture King Solomon's Mines. More accurately, picture Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets The Heart of Darkness meets Congo (the novel, not that horrible Laura Linney movie). It is a fun, entertaining romp.

One of the strengths of any Cordell adventure is the level of thought he puts into realistic detail. Ancient traps run out of power over time, character motivations and twists are well drawn and the ecology of the dungeon holds together. If there is a creature too big to escape the room where it lives (and there is), you know how it got there, why it got there, and what it eats.

My complaints with this module are minor. Some of the dialog and description clunk once in a while. An encounter or two feels forced, but this is nothing that should hamper anyone's enjoyment of the adventure, especially if the DM does his own descriptions instead of reading "boxed text."

My biggest complaint has to do with the climax. This takes place in an interesting looking room. In effect, this is the opposite of the "Steam Factories" you see at the end of so many movies. You know the place. The hero and the villain end up grappling in a factory with no workers that seems to produce nothing but steam. This adds delicious threat to the fight scene, as long as the viewer doesn't think too much about why the factory is there or what it is doing.

As I said, the climax of this adventure takes place in the opposite setting. The room has a purpose, it's filled with stuff, yet except for the climactic fight, nothing here is dangerous. I think that Cordell had a wonderful opportunity for a rich and dangerous tactical environment and missed it. I would suggest to any DM running this adventure to make this room come to life, it shouldn't be hard to rationalize how. Your game will benefit from it greatly.

I'd recommend this adventure to anyone playing in the Eberron setting. It might not be Cordell's crowning achievement but it's a good, solid module and a step above many of the adventures one sees these days.