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.

log in or register to remove this ad

Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

I love the fact that 5e is pretty much doing the opposite of what 2e did. I still remember all of the changes that were made to 2e in response to the "Satanic Panic" of the 80s. Demons & Devils changed to T'anarri and Batezu, etc. 5e is embracing the Hells, demons, devils, etc. whole-heartedly. Times have changed!
I like how the disclaimer throws shade at the Satanic Panic.

log in or register to remove this ad


If you’re not into soil coins—I.E. “others suffer for me to achieve my goals”, there’s always the quintessential heroic backstop—“I suffer to achieve my goals”. Meaning the character using/constructing it gets corrupted. Or be a Jedi and realize that you could be more powerful if you gave in...but...


I don't have Murder anymore, so I can't do a side-by-side, but I think it's pretty close. For what it's worth, it's pretty good stuff. It seems like me that they've advanced the timeline from there, and there appears to be a few new things. I admit I could be wrong, so someone else will have to give you a better answer, but I'd say it uses the good stuff and adds a little bit of new things.
After comparing with dndbeyond release it is an updated Gazeteer. I am happy. They did advanced the timeline to 1492 DR and updated the counts etc.
Last edited:


I am getting the book today but my fix for soil coins will be to have different denominations based on a person's deeds and alignment in life. The lowest denomination coins are evil murderers and the like, the higher ones good-aligned altruists who died saving people, for example. The party won't know specifics just that a "penny" soul coin is for an evil soul and a "dollar" is for a noble person. I will have to think of names if the book doesn't have denominations. The party can choose to run a hell machine thing on penny coins but it will take alot of them or they can use a high value coin for greater mileage. Even using penny coins should cause some ethical soul searching for the party. This at least is my initial thought. Maybe this is already in the book.

Edit: just read soul coins in the book on DnD Beyond. Good stuff. Party will know about the soul in the coin. So there is no need for denominations. A PC can use limited telepathy to get an answer from the coin. Have to mull it over but denominations might still be useful.

Edit 2:. Non-evil characters have limited carrying capacity of coins based on CON modifier. Over the limit=disadvantage on most everything. This is a lovely mechanic. Characters also sense emotions from the coins so will have s sense of the soul's disposition in addition to the ability to ask it a question.
Last edited:

Remove ads

Remove ads


Remove ads

Recent & Upcoming Releases