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D&D 5E Deep Dive into Descent Into Avernus

The seeds for Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus were planted in last year's release, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (MToF). At the time, D&D Lead Designer Jeremy Crawford described the theme of that book as “conflict” and the chapter on the Blood Wars between devils and demons in the D&D multiverse is the foundation for Descent Into Avernus.

DnD Descent into Avernus Cover.jpg

Readers of my first impressions review were concerned that first-level characters would be hopelessly outclassed in the first plane of hell. However, since BG: DIA recommends milestone experience, PCs should be 5th level when they help survivors of Elturel, which has been pulled into the first layer of the lower planes, suspended by chains above the River Styx, then 7th level when they enter Avernus proper, and 13th level or higher when they try to return to Baldur's Gate – assuming they live that long. Even at 7th level, the adventure is a challenge, but they at least have a chance.

While BG: DIA is designed to be self-contained, it would be very wise for DMs to read the Blood Wars section of MToF's. Players can, too, but personally, I'd rather have the DM give the players relevant background material based on what their characters would know. Of special note is the information on Zariel, who was once an angel of Mount Celestia but now rules Avernus, having been corrupted while watching the Blood Wars rage. Impetuous, she eventually dove into battle there with her followers, convinced they could wipe its evil and claim the plane for good. She was wrong. Asmodeus found her unconscious under a pile of her conquests. When she recovered, he gave her dominion over Avernus and named its prior ruler, Bel, her lieutenant. The stats for Zariel in BG: DIA and MToF match, but the later provides a lot of personality information that are useful for DMs. BG: DIA has essential background but it's better to use both.

Before the start of BG: DIA, the city of Elturel has disappeared, pulled into the lower planes. The chaos this causes for Baldur's Gate as refugees flee toward it leads to the Flaming Fist pressing the first-level characters into service. From there, players are drawn deeper into the mystery while gaining XP. Besides freeing Eltural, if nothing is done, Baldur's Gate could share the same fate as that city.

While not exactly a sandbox adventure, BG: DIA it's not a railroad plot either. The players could achieve their goals any number of ways, though all are likely to be difficult and force them to make hard decisions.

For example, Avernus is a huge wasteland (though once it appeared to be a paradise that Asmodeus used to tempt and corrupt people) fraught with danger so faster transportation is a benefit. Enter infernal war machines. Taken just at their artwork and stat blocks, infernal war machines are very cool and provide a framework that DMs could use for a variety of homebrew situations, especially if they change the fuel source.

In BG: DIA though, the fuel source are soul coins, which are the currency in hell, created by Adam Lee and his team. Soul coins can be used in a variety of ways and after their three charges are expended, the soul trapped within is released to whatever afterlife, god they served or appropriate alignment plane (DM's call) applies. When used to fuel an infernal war machine, though, the soul screams as it is trapped in the engine, fueling the vehicle and when it's fully consumed, the soul is utterly destroyed beyond even divine intervention. When using an infernal machine is essential to whatever plan players come up with, how do good party members react to using soul coins to fuel it?

Individual and group party alignment will likely make a difference in how challenges are faced. If this is played outside of D&D Adventurer's League alignment rules, an evil party could use the opportunities to make deals to attain power but that's such an obvious approach it's almost boring. The moral conflicts built into BG: DIA are much more challenging. One option to tie the group together is the Dark Secret device. At character creation the group, with the DM's input, makes secret they're all hiding but at least one other person knows. Tables are provided to guide the process, and they could be easily adapted for other campaigns.

DnD Descent_into_Avernus_AltCvr_back.jpg

As appropriate for an adventure involving devils and demons, BG: DIA contains lots of opportunities for scheming, including possibly cutting a deal with Joe Manganiello's character from Critical Role: Force Grey, Arkhan the Cruel. The Dragonborn oathbreaker paladin now serves Tiamet, who is trapped in Avernus. The queen of evil dragons is capable of freeing Elturel but for what cost? Arkhan is obsessed with freeing his goddess, even taking on the Hand of Vecna in the hopes that its power can help him do it. Readers of my initial review wondered if this was just a stunt appearance because Manganiello is a celebrity, but I wouldn't label it that way. Lee and Manganiello worked out a reasonable plot thread that adds a layer of options and complications to the adventure.

BG: DIA contains a lot of good, useful information on role-playing devils, infernal contracts, archdevil charms (including one that will remind you a little of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), life in the Nine Hells and more. Again, that material could be used for homebrew campaigns even if you don't run BG: DIA as written.

Stylistically, BG: DIA is as opposite Waterdeep: Dragon Heist as you can get. The latter required subtlety and killing everything in sight inevitably led to a confrontation with the city watch. BG: DIA doesn't have the same restraints but a reckless murder fest could still have serious in-game consequences. It's definitely more epic than W: DH and with Zariel having a 26 CR, among other high-level opponents, it's definitely challenging.

If you like infernal adventures or opportunities to smite evil, BG: DIA is for you. Even without that the material on Baldur's Gate, soul coins, infernal war machines, etc. could make it worthwhile.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Parmandur

Book-Friend
I guess my biggest hesitation with the Infernal War Machines are... is using one optional?

I'm completely okay with the consequences of fueling an Infernal War Machine with souls being what they are. I'm completely okay with benefits of using an Infernal War Machine being significant. I'm completely okay with avoiding the use of one making the adventure harder for the party. What I am worried about is the possibility that the adventure might be nearly impossible to complete without a War Machine. So, I ask of you, folk who've read the adventure, is it?

Nope.
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
No, as in, they aren't optional? There isn't a meaningful choice as to whether or not to use the War Machines, you have to use one in order to participate in the adventure?

Nope, as in not necessary. Nice to have, a bit of a slog without it, but it's a slog with them because Hell.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Let's see, only a class proficient in WIS saves AND with a 20 WIS could do it at any level worth mentioning (by 9th or so).

Except paladins - with a 16 WIS and 16 CHA (or 14, 18) that could do it by 6th. But most can't afford to have a wisdom that high (unless they roll and get very very lucky).

This does bring up a question. The save is at the end of any long rest. If the party stays within 10' of the paladin for the rest do they all get the bonus at the end?

Seems a bit cheesy, but the check is pretty dire.
Not sure how it’s even cheesy. It’s precisely the sort of thing the Paladin aura is there for.
 

Reynard

Legend
They do not: ability checks do not automatically succeed on a 20, or fail on a 1 in 5E. Anybody with a +9 in the relevant check cannot fail a DC 10, anybody with a -1 cannot succeed a DC 20. Obviously, a given party might not have anyone who is in that catagory, but folks riding into Hell are more likely to be the type to be able to succeed, methinks.
Huh. That's one of those legacy rules I have been doing wrong for 5 years...
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Unless I'm missing something, if you aren't proficient in wisdom saving throws many PCs will have a 50% chance of turning LE after a long rest and 1d4 days?

As far as the hell cars ... every review has said that they are one of the most fun aspects of the game. So...play a PC willing to commit potentially evil acts* or have a harder (much harder? slog?) time completing the quest and you don't get to play with the cool toys.

Still seems like this mod is designed to punish anyone who wants to do that "immature" thing of playing a hero.

*Still not 100% clear on that; how does the DM determine if the soul trapped in the coin is truly evil? How can the PCs know?
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
Huh. That's one of those legacy rules I have been doing wrong for 5 years...

It's not at all unusual. I believe it was Jeremy Crawford who said a while back that a lot of the rules questions he gets are signal interference from previous editions being mixed in with 5E.

Matt Mercer quite conciously has houseruled using critical failure and success rules for checks on Critical Role, so it is also a part of the popular idea of D&D at the moment even if it is not rules by the book.
 

Unless I'm missing something, if you aren't proficient in wisdom saving throws many PCs will have a 50% chance of turning LE after a long rest and 1d4 days?

As far as the hell cars ... every review has said that they are one of the most fun aspects of the game. So...play a PC willing to commit potentially evil acts* or have a harder (much harder? slog?) time completing the quest and you don't get to play with the cool toys.

Still seems like this mod is designed to punish anyone who wants to do that "immature" thing of playing a hero.

*Still not 100% clear on that; how does the DM determine if the soul trapped in the coin is truly evil? How can the PCs know?
From the description of the item in the appendix: "To hold a soul coin is to feel the soul bound within it". Just by touching the coin, characters will know what type of soul is inside.

As for whether they are good or evil or whatever, that is for the DM to decide. However, it would seem logical that most got there since they are irredeemably evil; good souls aren't going to end up inside one barring some some situation where they accidentally got caught up in some devil's scheme.

And the vehicles themselves are like airships or flying mounts in a regular campaign. Yeah, they are nice, fun, convenient, and make overland travel easier, but hardly necessary for the game.

But as for it being harder for good characters - well, yeah, that's the point. This is Hell we're talking about here! A Hell that makes it easy for good characters is no Hell at all.
 
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gyor

Legend
Unless I'm missing something, if you aren't proficient in wisdom saving throws many PCs will have a 50% chance of turning LE after a long rest and 1d4 days?

As far as the hell cars ... every review has said that they are one of the most fun aspects of the game. So...play a PC willing to commit potentially evil acts* or have a harder (much harder? slog?) time completing the quest and you don't get to play with the cool toys.

Still seems like this mod is designed to punish anyone who wants to do that "immature" thing of playing a hero.

*Still not 100% clear on that; how does the DM determine if the soul trapped in the coin is truly evil? How can the PCs know?

The spell Ceremony fixes that easily (can be used to revert an altered alignment via atonement).
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The spell Ceremony fixes that easily (can be used to revert an altered alignment via atonement).
Assuming you have a PC in the party that has it and can cast it. That the affected PC wants the ritual cast. That anyone but the PC knows that their alignment changed.

But if there's a "get out of jail free" card, why even have it?

Just seems like more parlor tricks and shenanigans to give a sheen of "maturity". Go in with a neutral or evil party and no conflict. Only players that want to play good PCs get hosed.

I freely admit this is a pet peeve of mine. It's just a common theme that in order to be considered "mature" you're best off running neutral or evil characters.
 

Adamant

Explorer
One more problem with Ceremony for atonement is the DC 20 insight check you have to make to succeed. I can say that if a dm is using that particular optional rule in AL, I will play at a different table. Luckily at the store I go to, there are 3 to choose from.
 

5ekyu

Hero
They do not: ability checks do not automatically succeed on a 20, or fail on a 1 in 5E. Anybody with a +9 in the relevant check cannot fail a DC 10, anybody with a -1 cannot succeed a DC 20. Obviously, a given party might not have anyone who is in that catagory, but folks riding into Hell are more likely to be the type to be able to succeed, methinks.
This is very true for 5e general.

However in the product of this thread they fo suggest additional rules andvrulings to emphasize the hostile nature of this place and the pervasive infernal influences - to spotlight the environmental impacts.

One of the examples hits not just flavor but actual rules, worse results on a 1 - explicitly having non- magical weapons break on an attack roll of natural 1.

SO... it would be well within this products scope for the "fail on 1" for saves to be added.
 
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Xardion

Explorer
We'll, we're gonna see how this goes with a good party. My group just created characters, and while they are all complicit in a murder (that's the Dark Secret they went with, one of the characters had a viciously abusive criminal husband), they are all good-aligned (2 CG, 1 LG, and 1 NG). One of them is an aasimar, so I may let that character make the DC 10 save with advantage, given that they'll have an angelic guide to keep them on track.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
This is very true for 5e general.

However in the product of this thread they fo suggest additional rules andvrulings to emphasize the hostile nature of this place and the pervasive infernal influences - to spotlight the environmental impacts.

One of the examples hits not just flavor but actual rules, worsecredults on a 1 - explicitly having non- magical weapons break on an attack roll of natural 1.

SO... it would be well within this products scope for the "fail on 1" for saves to be added.

Anybody using non-magical weapons in Avernus is boned anyways. But "fail ability check on a 1" was not added in this product.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
One other note on this whole topic. I've played characters with a variety of alignments over the years, although I wouldn't play an evil PC again (and only did for a short period of time). I even had a PC utter the words "I don't share" when an NPC offered to share the artifact that would allow them to rule the world*.

So I could come up with a PC that could play this mod. I'd probably even have fun playing them. I just don't want to be forced to play a specific type of PC in order to get the most out of a mod. Which is too bad because it sounds like it was well produced.

I'm just waiting for the mod to come out where good aligned PCs get some extra special bonus or evil PCs have negative effects for being evil. Not in a DM empowerment way, not in a "if you do something illegal and get caught it might have a minor negative consequence". Something along the lines of being forced to be LG (which would actually be kind of funny for a CN/CE PC) or not receiving boons from an angelic being that make the mod significantly easier.

Because the other way around? Getting penalized for being good? Happens far too often.

*The PC was true neutral and didn't really want to rule the world in the first place. Too much paperwork. He just wanted the artifact because it would make him immortal and he was an atheist.
 

Xardion

Explorer
Oh, I should note, the "Bargain-Basement Death Saves", "Exhaustion" and "Pervasive Evil" effects are listed as Optional Rules. So, beyond the usual DM fiat that applies to any game, these rules are completely up to the DM to use or not.
 

Xardion

Explorer
I'm just waiting for the mod to come out where good aligned PCs get some extra special bonus or evil PCs have negative effects for being evil. Not in a DM empowerment way, not in a "if you do something illegal and get caught it might have a minor negative consequence". Something along the lines of being forced to be LG (which would actually be kind of funny for a CN/CE PC) or not receiving boons from an angelic being that make the mod significantly easier.

Because the other way around? Getting penalized for being good? Happens far too often.

Well... there is some of this in Descent into Avernus. I don't wanna be TOO spoiler-y, but should the players resist the corruption, manage to keep certain characters alive or befriend others, and ESPECIALLY if you have a cleric or paladin of a good deity willing to make the ULTIMATE sacrifice at the end, the party can seriously alter the balance of power in Avernus, simply by being good (and not screwing up some skill rolls).
 

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