Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus First Impressions

In Dungeons & Dragons lore and games, jokes are frequently made about Baldur's Gate going to hell or being hell. With the newest adventure book, Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus that's a real (so to speak) and distinct possibility.

DnD Descent into Avernus Limited front cover.jpg

The adventure begins with Baldur's Gate more chaotic than usual. Refugees from Elturel, which has vanished, are trying to get in, and the city gates have been sealed in an attempt to maintain order, but it's obviously not going to last. Players are pulled into the situation by the Flaming Fist, the mercenary company trying to keep control of the situation, especially since Grand Duke Ulder Ravengard of Baldur's Gate vanished with Elturel because he was on a diplomatic mission there.

Elturel has actually been drawn into hell, or Avernus more precisely, through the machinations of archdevil Zariel, who used to be an angel before her corruption. She now rules Avernus and plans to do to Baldur's Gate what happened to Elturel. The adventure, which starts at first level and goes through 13, eventually takes characters to into Avernus and the heart of the Blood War between demons and devils in order to prevent the fall of Baldur's Gate and, maybe, save Elturel.

Appearing for the first time in official D&D canon with this book is Arkhan the Cruel. Actor Joe Manganiello played the character on Critical Role as well as WotC's “Stream of Annihilation” event and in season two of Force Grey: Lost City of Omu. The dragonborn oathbreaker paladin, now wielding the Hand of Vecna, wants to free his goddess, Tiamat, from her imprisonment in Avernus so developer Adam Lee and Manganiello worked together to add Arkhan to the story. With a challenge rating of 16, he'll be a formidable opponent for the players.

DnD Descent into Avernus wide art.jpeg

The artwork is gorgeous. That's not surprising, and I've been a fan of the art style and direction used in 5th Edition all along. As usual, art director Kate Irwin and her team (graphic designers Emi Tanji and Trish Yochum, concept art director Richard Whitters, creative art director Shauna Narcisco and all of the illustrators) have done an outstanding job. I especially love the stained glass-style artwork by Claudio Pozas, both two-page Blood War battle scenes by Daarken and Chris Rallis' two-page image of the puzzle box's contents being revealed.

Even more impressive are the covers for both the regular and special edition. The mainstream release has a wrap-around cover (though part of it is concealed by book details and the synopsis so you only get the full effect inside the book where it shows the full painting) by Tyler Jacobson showing Zariel flying above Avernus, followed by a henchman, as she reaches for her sword. It perfectly sets the tone for the adventure within its covers. My only complaint is that the art credits on each page are too close to the seam for comfortable reading. With a tiny font and sometimes lighter ink color, Wizards of the Coast does not make it easy to tell who drew what.

The limited edition cover by Hydro74 is downright stunning. I've been a fan of Hydro74's soft-touch (the proper name of the effect that creates the matte black covers with an almost rubbery velvet feel) covers from the beginning. The silver and metallic red for Bhaal's skull on the front is eye catching. The back image of Zariel, her wings spread, is even more gorgeous. His cover for Xanathar's Guide to Everything is still my favorite because I love art deco, but this one is right up there. It's equal parts creepy and evilly elegant, which is appropriate.

The bulk of the maps are by Dyson Logos and Mike Schley so you know they're fantastic. The poster maps are by Jared Blando, who also did the map of Avernus included in the Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus Dice and Miscellany (see my review of that) in smaller form so players can reference to it as needed. It is a gorgeous map. A two-sided player's map is attached in the back of the book. One side is for Elturel and the other for Avernus.

The illustrations especially come in handy for Appendix B, which is all about infernal war machines. Just as Ghosts of Saltmarsh added expanded nautical rules and a wider array of ships, this chapter adds vehicles, albeit twisted versions. More monsters and, of course, magic items are also included.

If you're like me one of the first things you turn to in a new 5th Edition D&D book is the disclaimer. This one starts off seemingly dull before winking at the Satanic Panic that distorted what role-playing games, especially D&D, were. It's cute but not my fave. That's also a very minor criticism.

Like Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Descent Into Avernus comes with a gazetteer of Baldur's Gate. That's a big help for GMs and an entertaining read for players. Mechanically that section also provides a new background option – Faceless – and variant options for the other backgrounds to customize them to Baldur's Gate. That's a nice touch.

Daniel Reeve created an Infernal Script for the book. Fun touches like an Infernal Rapture Menu also give players a chance to practice translating what's been written in the script. I suspect that will come in handy at some point in the adventure (I'm still reading it – this is the first impressions review).

Story concept art is showcased in Appendix F. That's an interesting tidbit, especially since this adventure's fantasy is more panoramic than most, which is saying something for D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons is all about epic adventure. Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus appears to turn that up a few notches. Stay tuned for my in-depth review, which will focus more on the infernal vehicles, plot, and more.
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

SMHWorlds

Explorer
Great snapshot as always! I am slightly more interested in this than I was, but I still have massive reservations. I know the formula sells and sells well, but selling well and playing well are not the same. Still, I may give this a bigger look.
 

wicked cool

Explorer
got a feeling they are undead or something. Was doing some research and back (wiki)there was an article/idea in the 80's-90's theres was one diety/devil that wanted his/her subject to be undead? I didn't recognize the name and its not the fallen angel on some covers. Getting a silent hill vibe from many of the miniatures in this set
 

Urriak Uruk

Explorer
got a feeling they are undead or something. Was doing some research and back (wiki)there was an article/idea in the 80's-90's theres was one diety/devil that wanted his/her subject to be undead? I didn't recognize the name and its not the fallen angel on some covers. Getting a silent hill vibe from many of the miniatures in this set
They're definitely not. I think part of the recoloring has to do with wanting to differentiate the devils from the demons in art, as the demons are mostly shades of red.

Covering the eyes doesn't seem to have a big impact on devils, a lot have truesight.
 

gyor

Adventurer
I never liked this most unreasonable criticism of the Forgotten Realms. The idea that because there are more qualified heroes in the world your current crop of heroes will be over shadowed.

FR is huge with 20+ evil organizations at large at any one time. There is plenty of demand for heroics. I’ve been DMing in the Realms for 20 years and have never felt the need to justify what Elminster is doing at any given hour of the day.

Level is an abstract game term not a campaign term. The removal of level from NPC stat blocks in 5e means there are as many 20th level harpers running round as the DM wants there to be and not a soul more.
More like hundredss of evil organizations because every evil god has a church, every archdevil has a cult, there countless Orc, Orge, Hill Giant, Gobliniod tribes, there are who knows how many greedy merchant cabals, secret wizard societies, tons of mercanary groups, Fallen Angels, Elder Evils and their cultists and aberrations, a city of Aboleths, scheming noble houses, tyrants and their armies, Githyanki raiding parties, all the competing Red Wizard schools, Larloch and his Liches, Gloomwrought, conspiring Shades and Shadar Kai, dozens if not hundreds of ambitious Drow houses, Dragon Flights (they have their own game of manipulating mortals), Dragon Kings, Primordials and their cults and elemental minions, the dark servants of neutral gods, demon cults and demon lords running amok and demon hordes, Yugoloth cults, Succubi Aeries, Gilgeam and the armies of Unther, thieves guilds in every city, the Beastlands and it's lords, what is left of The Kingdom of Many Arrows, Duargar Cities, Illithid cities, nomadic Drow tribes, human barbarians in thirst of pillaging, pirate Navies, Saughian Kingdoms, Formorian Kingdoms, warring Genies and Effertis, the Warlock Knights of Vaasa.

When you real that each high level NPC is out numbered like a 100 or more evil organizations to 1 high level NPC individual and that there also tons of dangerous important things to be done that don't invovle fighf these organizations, and that they often have peaceful responsibilities as well and that if they just go gallavanting off all the time, they are leaving major prizes unguarded for extended periods of time, it becomes clear why the PCs are needed.

Plus a lot of high level PCs got nerfed.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
The Pit Fiend Leader's Helmet that covers his eyes is explicitly stated to be able to see through the Helmet as if it was not there.

It also allows expands his telepathy and allows him to broadcast orders. I assume the other helmets are also see through if you wear them.

Said pit fiend is also named, which is probably why he looks different than the standard.
 
I have never had a problem explaining why famous powerful NPCs don't get involved. Any of the reasons mentioned upthread plus dozens more are perfectly good.

If you really have a hard time explaining to yourself why Big Shot NPCs aren't involved - try this. They went to investigate what was happening in Elturel but were pulled into Avernus along with the city and then died/escaped to another plane/are hip deep in the Blood War etc.

So, who you gonna call?

I'm really looking forward to Descent into Avernus and I'm not really one for published adventures. I recently bought 'Heroes of Baldur's Gate' on DMs Guild which is another level 1-6 adventure created by the designer of the original Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 video games. It also has an excellent gazetteer of the city but covers much more of the surrounding area then Descent. I plan on schmusching the two adventures together and adding some elements of Planescape for an overly ambitious epic.

I also plan to allow players to choose backgrounds from both Heroes and Descent; Heroes allows you to play as a Bhaalspawn, one of the epic backgrounds in that book.

Two Baldur's Gate books in one year - that's what I call synchronicity. I'm not sure if there's ever been a D&D book that's covered Baldur's Gate in this level of detail previously.
 

eyeheartawk

Explorer
...snip

Two Baldur's Gate books in one year - that's what I call synchronicity. I'm not sure if there's ever been a D&D book that's covered Baldur's Gate in this level of detail previously.
I don't even like the Realms but at this point I would be happy with a book that doesn't take place in Baldur's Gate or the Sword Coast generally, just somewhere else on Faerun would be nice.
 
I don't even like the Realms but at this point I would be happy with a book that doesn't take place in Baldur's Gate or the Sword Coast generally, just somewhere else on Faerun would be nice.
Actually, I agree with you there but there is just something that really tickles my fancy about these two Baldur's Gate books. Descent into Avernus is basically an epic Planescape adventure with the serial numbers filed off. I also plan to make use of the Hellbound Planescape supplement for extra devilry.
 
I don't even like the Realms but at this point I would be happy with a book that doesn't take place in Baldur's Gate or the Sword Coast generally, just somewhere else on Faerun would be nice.
Actually, I agree with you there but there is just something that really tickles my fancy about these two Baldur's Gate books. Descent into Avernus is basically an epic Planescape adventure with the serial numbers filed off. I also plan to make use of the Hellbound Planescape supplement for extra devilry.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Actually, I agree with you there but there is just something that really tickles my fancy about these two Baldur's Gate books. Descent into Avernus is basically an epic Planescape adventure with the serial numbers filed off. I also plan to make use of the Hellbound Planescape supplement for extra devilry.
I mean, there has been only one WotC Baldur's Gate book: the other one is a DMsGuild project.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
I mean, there has been only one WotC Baldur's Gate book: the other one is a DMsGuild project.
You’re forgetting ‘Murder in Baldur’s Gate’, one of the Sundering adventures from the playtest period. It has a wonderful gazetteer on the city. I am curious to see how much of the gazetteer in BG: DIA is a reprint of what’s in MiBG.

Also, FWIW, the ‘Heroes of Baldur’s Gate’ book is also set a hundred years before BG: DIA (in the original 1e/2e era timeline).
 

Parmandur

Legend
You’re forgetting ‘Murder in Baldur’s Gate’, one of the Sundering adventures from the playtest period. It has a wonderful gazetteer on the city. I am curious to see how much of the gazetteer in BG: DIA is a reprint of what’s in MiBG.

Also, FWIW, the ‘Heroes of Baldur’s Gate’ book is also set a hundred years before BG: DIA (in the original 1e/2e era timeline).
True, and that is still a big bestseller in PDF.
 

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