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.

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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

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Is this book any good? I mean actual unbiased reviews. I do not want a feel good review saying everything is awesome.
 

vpuigdoller

Explorer
Is this book any good? I mean actual unbiased reviews. I do not want a feel good review saying everything is awesome.
I haven't finished reading in order to give an unbiased opinion, so beware. The adventure is organized in 5 chapters, four of them taking place in Avernus. At least in the synopsis feels railroady but IMO thats, not an issue. It has an open ending with three possible scenarios mentioned in the book. The Avernus fluff is very flavourful. The Baldurs Gate Gazeteer is updated to 1492 and is very comprehensive including leaders factions, random encounter tables in the city, etc.

I suggest asking for someone who has it to lend it to you or look it up at a store and decide by yourself.

I was on the opinion I was going to hate it and I am very surprised by it to the point that now I want to run it.

EDIT: I love the appendixes, lots of fluff, monsters and infernal contracts.

EDIT 2: The adventure feels very grounded in the Forgotten Realms but an expert dm could move it elsewhere by renaming places and NPCs.
 
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MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
How much info do we get on the Dead Three in this?
Quite a bit. We get stat blocks for a bunch of Dead Three Cultists, and a fair amount of lore on them. One of the big things is that because the Sundering limited the gods ability to interfere with mortal affairs and directly influence events, the revived Dead Three decided not to go along with it.

The Dead Three gave up most of their power to so they could remain on Toril in their weaker avatars. This makes them vulnerable to being killed, but they still possess god powers and unlike the other gods can freely meddle with world.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
I didnt read the entire adventure just flipped through it and read a few things here and there. Did anyone else find including Jander Sunstar in this adventure somewhat baffling and ridiculous; is he mentioned anywhere else other than pg. 93? Seems the writers just took a cool character from the Realms/Ravenloft that they drew out of a hat and put him in Avernus for no good reason and then didnt know what to do with him. The way he's portrayed as a coward is counter to everything Ive ever read on him, and just seems misplaced. It wouldve made alot more sense to include him in WD: DH or WD: DotMM, or even CoS IMO.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
I didnt read the entire adventure just flipped through it and read a few things here and there. Did anyone else find including Jander Sunstar in this adventure somewhat baffling and ridiculous; is he mentioned anywhere else other than pg. 93? Seems the writers just took a cool character from the Realms/Ravenloft that they drew out of a hat and put him in Avernus for no good reason and then didnt know what to do with him. The way he's portrayed as a coward is counter to everything Ive ever read on him, and just seems misplaced. It wouldve made alot more sense to include him in WD: DH or WD: DotMM, or even CoS IMO.
I would deciding to back out on a suicide charge against Hell to be cowardly.
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
I would deciding to back out on a suicide charge against Hell to be cowardly.
Hes not your average PC or throwaway NPC, hes been pretty detailed in game products and novels. Hes almost a thousand years old and has been a vampire for most of that time. To say a 13th level party can possibly complete this adventure but this guys gonna turn tail and run at the first sign of danger is just poor use of a good character.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Hes not your average PC or throwaway NPC, hes been pretty detailed in game products and novels. Hes almost a thousand years old and has been a vampire for most of that time. To say a 13th level party can possibly complete this adventure but this guys gonna turn tail and run at the first sign of danger is just poor use of a good character.
That's not what happened. He was one of the original volunteers that helped in the assault against a Hellportal. However when the army went into Hell to face off against the Infernal Legion he and a bunch of others decided that was suicide and chose to go back and seal the portal instead. He felt bad about this however.

After his death, his soul was claimed by Zariel and impaled by her lieutenant Haruman on a tree along with the other oathbreakers.

The 13th level party is also not taking on the whole Infernal Legion as well. (In fact it states several times that doing that is suicide.)
 

R_J_K75

Explorer
That's not what happened. He was one of the original volunteers that helped in the assault against a Hellportal. However when the army went into Hell to face off against the Infernal Legion he and a bunch of others decided that was suicide and chose to go back and seal the portal instead. He felt bad about this however.

After his death, his soul was claimed by Zariel and impaled by her lieutenant Haruman on a tree along with the other oathbreakers.

The 13th level party is also not taking on the whole Infernal Legion as well. (In fact it states several times that doing that is suicide.)
Like I said in my OP I didnt read the whole adventure and just the entry on pg. 93 so Im assuming that what you have mentioned is detailed elsewhere earlier in the book, if so where? Id like to check it out, as this seems to make more sense.
 

gyor

Adventurer
This update makes Baldur's Gate a lot more interesting then it used to be honestly, so this book exceded my expectations by a lot.

Also when it comes to the Warmachines, it doesn't say what happens when you use Demon Ichor without a soul coin, so I see no reason you couldn't fuel it, as least for a short and risky time with just Demon Ichor.

Most of the Background features are ironically only useful in BG, being useless to Avernus. This is the great flaw of backgrounds with a strong tie to a particular city, it's useless anywhere else.

The most useful in my opinion are the nobles and the Acolytes. Religious Community is more useful then it seems, because it allows to find exactly where the followers of any religion cluster in the city are, and pretty much all of them are in the city. That includes worshippers of the Dead Three, Asmodeaus, other fiends, and Gods linked to certain professions are. Like if you need a thief, go where the worshippers if Mask congragate, if you want the gather secrets of the coin lasses and lads you go where the worshippers of Shares dwell. Need a guide into the Underdark? Find the worshippers of Keptolo dwell or another member of the Dark Sederine dwell. It also says your well connected in the religious community.

Also the Gazetter details at least two major brothels, one of which is Undercellar (aka where fun is at).
 
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Parmandur

Legend
This update makes Baldur's Gate a lot more interesting then it used to be honestly, so this book exceded my expectations by a lot.

Also when it comes to the Warmachines, it doesn't say what happens when you use Demon Ichor without a soul coin, so I see no reason you couldn't fuel it, as least for a short and risky time with just Demon Ichor.

Most of the Background features are ironically only useful in BG, being useless to Avernus. This is the great flaw of backgrounds with a strong tie to a particular city, it's useless anywhere else.
The PHB Backgrounds are all also useless in Avernus, near as I can tell.

It strikes me that the book kind of half assumes a lot of people are going to skip the Hell parts or use the book as the basis for unrelated Homebrew adventui.
 
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gyor

Adventurer
The PHB Backgrounds are all also useless in Avernus, near as I can tell.
Not all of them. The one that grants servant's is still useful, hypothetically.

I'm curious as to what tie in Adventures AL will do, will high level ones be in BG, Avernus, or will it be a mix of the two.

Also curious as to how many spoilers for BG3 are going to be in the book, like will we find out who takes over Avernus if Zariel is redeemed.

One thing I wish we learned is, what happens to the infernal contracts signed with Zariel if she gets redeemed, are they all null and void, to the souls automatically go with her too Heaven, what happens? That could tie up Hell's courts for ages.
 

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