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.
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

chrisshorb

Explorer
Couple ideas:

First things first, celestial rides have all kinds of opportunities!
*PCs could straight up get wings!
*Celestial boats with the heads of unicorns and maybe enormous angelic wings on the sides? The bowsprit unicorn can definitely be used to ram things.
*Celestial mounts! They won’t like you if you do evil stuff. Maybe an opportunity to bond with a newly hatched celestial eagle/Pegasus/alicorn/flying ram/big ol angelic lion/whatever.
*Chariots. And chariot races. And chariot chases. Chariot jousting.
*A celestial dragon a la falcor

Second, the challenge. So, something is wrong in the upper planes. You are stuck with either fixing it or never going home. There is a minor deity that believes you can, and can help you in small ways, but the greater gods have gone silent, and are suspicious of all.

If you don’t figure out what is causing the retreat of the angels, and now the gods, and fix it, there will be war in the Heavens, as there has not been since The Beginning.

Now, this means you have to navigate suspicion, and do dishonest things, without losing your few allies and safe havens, or getting caught out by the forces of the greater gods. This means making checks to convince, which are harder if you are Evil, and may be harder if your Law/Chaos alignment doesn’t match where you are or whose agents you’re dealing with.

I’d even tie it to Descent optionally, and have Zariel be an ally if she was redeemed by the party in Descent, or if the DM wants to establish that a party went to hell and did that, and if not, some other being could fill the same role.
please write this adventure. Thank you. :)
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
Ok, my party just destroyed the Dragonborn Antipaladin and his minions (lack of Legendary saves + Portent). We are LVL 9.
So far:
  • This adventure is a blast, could replace Reign of Winter as my #3 top adventure. Better then ToA and CoS. Truly epic in scope and fun fun fun.
  • BEST PLANESCAPE ADVENTURE EVER. Yes. It's Planescape. The original feeling. And I love it.
  • Love for the Dead Three dungeon, Elturel Cathedral, and all of Avernus. Great, great encounters. War Machines. Dragonborn Antipaladins. Lulu!
  • Magic Items: too few in the beginning, but now the LVL9 party handles some artifacts. I like it.
  • Best art for 5e? Could be. It was difficult to beat PHB, MM and DMG. Or Dragon Heist. But it could be.
  • Great miniature set from WizKids, finally some devils done well. Love Lucille.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Ok, my party just destroyed the Dragonborn Antipaladin and his minions (lack of Legendary saves + Portent). We are LVL 9.
So far:
  • This adventure is a blast, could replace Reign of Winter as my #3 top adventure. Better then ToA and CoS. Truly epic in scope and fun fun fun.
  • BEST PLANESCAPE ADVENTURE EVER. Yes. It's Planescape. The original feeling. And I love it.
  • Love for the Dead Three dungeon, Elturel Cathedral, and all of Avernus. Great, great encounters. War Machines. Dragonborn Antipaladins. Lulu!
  • Magic Items: too few in the beginning, but now the LVL9 party handles some artifacts. I like it.
  • Best art for 5e? Could be. It was difficult to beat PHB, MM and DMG. Or Dragon Heist. But it could be.
  • Great miniature set from WizKids, finally some devils done well. Love Lucille.
Better than ToA and CoS?
More elaboration needed.
 

Enrico Poli1

Explorer
Better than ToA and CoS?
More elaboration needed.
I've not finished the adventure yet, so I cannot emit a definitive judgement. Anyway:
  • The first part of the adventure is linear, then Avernus is a sandbox. Also, I think you can complete the adventure in a number of different ways. This means it's highly replayable. For example, with good and with non-good PCs.
  • It's a planar quest, in which the players get a taste of Hell in a better way then every past d&d adventure, Planescape included. (I'm a big fan of the Blood War, so I'm biased). The authors did a great job to design the map and the encounters, each one can be memorable. Roleplay over rollplay.
  • The first part in Baldur's Gate is good too (especially the Dead Three dungeon), it's not a quick way to level up the PCs to 5 when the "true" Quest begins (like in SKT and CoS).
  • Players get to interact with iconic NPCs and items. And the scope of the quest can change the future of the Planes, besides that of Baldur's Gate. The result is that the players, even at Lvl 8-9, feel like epic heroes in a novel or a movie. They also feel truly tempted to step into the dark side...
  • The truly majestic art helps players to feel the right atmosphere and aesthetics.
  • The adventure is challenging but not too difficult.
  • Mechanically, the authors experimented with a system of skill rolls to interact with the environment that we really appreciated.
  • The war machine part is actually fun.
  • There are memorable villains.

So it's excellent. IMO, only a bit better then CoS and ToA. Best adventure of 5e.
 

chrisshorb

Explorer
Ok, my party just destroyed the Dragonborn Antipaladin and his minions (lack of Legendary saves + Portent). We are LVL 9.
So far:
  • This adventure is a blast, could replace Reign of Winter as my #3 top adventure. Better then ToA and CoS. Truly epic in scope and fun fun fun.
  • BEST PLANESCAPE ADVENTURE EVER. Yes. It's Planescape. The original feeling. And I love it.
  • Love for the Dead Three dungeon, Elturel Cathedral, and all of Avernus. Great, great encounters. War Machines. Dragonborn Antipaladins. Lulu!
  • Magic Items: too few in the beginning, but now the LVL9 party handles some artifacts. I like it.
  • Best art for 5e? Could be. It was difficult to beat PHB, MM and DMG. Or Dragon Heist. But it could be.
  • Great miniature set from WizKids, finally some devils done well. Love Lucille.
You guys must be playing this thing every day if you are already at LVL9, and it just came out 2 weeks ago.
 

the Jester

Legend
Is this book any good? I mean actual unbiased reviews. I do not want a feel good review saying everything is awesome.
So I haven't finished it yet- I'm approximately halfway in- but I appear to be an outlier in that I am finding a decent chunk of it disappointing. I didn't read every post in the thread, so maybe someone else got here before me with these things, but here's my take.

Now, first off, I am a Forgotten Realms hater, but let me say that the Baldur's Gate section, the basic plot, etc. are awesome. I really like the dungeon of the Dead Three and the new stat blocks for their agents in here. Very cool. And the basic idea of the adventure is a very good one; I really like it. My FR hate is not a factor here at all.

What I have been finding disappointing is how... lackluster... some of the fiends' courses of action are. I don't want to give away too many spoilers here, but there is a section where you need to get a night hag on your side. But the ways you can do so are simply things that, were I to run that night hag how I think she ought to behave... mostly wouldn't influence her. Fiends are literally evil incarnate. You shouldn't be able to gain leverage over them without doing something that directly aids or threatens them, or advances their interest, or something. Some of the things you can do are just.... not that.

Basically, the sections I've read in Avernus so far are simply too nice. There's not much of a sense, to me at least, of overwhelming evil there. The whole "you might turn evil har har" thing doesn't do it for me. That's almost flavorless. (Compare to Out of the Abyss, where you can get specific types of madness from being tainted by the influence of demon lords.) Also, whatever happened to the Avernian fireballs falling from the sky that were so cool in earlier editions.

Oh yeah- also, soul coins? No thanks. I'll stick to larva as my Lower Planar currency. I think they're much cooler. But that's a quibble. If there weren't larvae in D&D's history, I'd dig the coins.

Now, I'm not done reacing this, and I do like a lot of the stuff in it. The art is aces, there are a great number of cool stat blocks, there are some cool encounters or sites, etc. I'm sure there is plenty to mine from it. The infernal war machines are great. The infernal bargain stuff is cool. But there's a fair amount that I can't see using without serious revision. (Not that I could use it as is in my campaign anyhow; the hierarchy of the Hells is different in my campaign as a result of pc actions some years ago, and Tiamat is very firmly in control of Avernus in my game.)

Anyway, that's my take so far: good, but in pieces, not as a whole, even if there was no issue with integrating it seemlessly into my Nine Hells setup and campaign setting. Lots of awesome, but also some significant disappointments.
 

teitan

Explorer
Right. Don't run a character unwilling to commit evil acts.

There are never mods for PCs unwilling to commit good acts.
You mean literally every other adventure that isn't Descent into Avernus? Because that's what you are describing for players who play Evil aligned characters in every other adventure.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Oh yeah- also, soul coins? No thanks. I'll stick to larva as my Lower Planar currency. I think they're much cooler. But that's a quibble. If there weren't larvae in D&D's history, I'd dig the coins.
Aren't Larva native to Hades. Also it makes sense that someone like Mammon would convert the souls like Larva he buys into coins.
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

Advertisement

Top