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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.
 
Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels


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PsyzhranV2

Adventurer
Watch a couple of episodes of the A Team and this problem solves itself. The party just needs to do onto the paladin what the rest of the A Team did to BA to get him to fly.....

This isn't a car.

What I get for using analogies...

App B: Infernal War Machine Rules
Soul Coins

An infernal war machine’s furnace consumes a soul coin instantly, expending all the coin’s remaining charges at once and destroying the coin in the process. The soul trapped in the coin becomes trapped in the furnace instead, powering the infernal war machine for a duration determined by how many charges the soul coin had when it was consumed: 1 charge, 24 hours; 2 charges, 48 hours; 3 charges, 72 hours. If it’s still trapped in the furnace when this duration ends, the soul is destroyed. Not even divine intervention can restore a soul destroyed in this manner.

Demon Ichor
Pouring a flask of demon ichor into an infernal war machine’s furnace increases the vehicle’s speed by 30 feet for 1 minute. While the vehicle’s speed is increased in this way, roll a d20 at the start of each of the driver’s turns. On a 1, the vehicle suffers the Furnace Rupture result on the Mishaps table (see "Mishaps").

From my reading of it, using the Demon Ichor boost adds to the vehicle's existing move speed for one minute. For instance, if you boosted the Tormentor, it would go from 100 feet per round to 130 feet per round for 10 rounds/1 minute. However, it says nothing about Demon Ichor being able to power the vehicle on its own; both the Appendix and elsewhere in the text state that you need Soul Coins.
 

BMaC

Explorer
It's not ethical quandry at all, it's completely black and white, using a soul coin like that is evil, period. And it's not just lawfal Good Paladin's it's anyone who isn't evil can't do it without becoming evil.
I don't have the time to recap Introduction to Philosophy but using a soul coin (particularly of an evil person) to power an Infernal Engine would be an ethical act for a LG character under certain circumstances, in particular the kind that arise in this adventure. Of the big three ethical theories--Deontology, Consequentialism, and Virtue Ethics--the latter two could make cases for using soul coins with ease.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I don't have the time to recap Introduction to Philosophy but using a soul coin (particularly of an evil person) to power an Infernal Engine would be an ethical act for a LG character under certain circumstances, in particular the kind that arise in this adventure. Of the big three ethical theories--Deontology, Consequentialism, and Virtue Ethics--the latter two could make cases for using soul coins with ease.

Remote cooperation with evil?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Watch a couple of episodes of the A Team and this problem solves itself. The party just needs to do onto the paladin what the rest of the A Team did to BA to get him to fly.....
My bet is, a party with such an alignment burden found workarounds long before this product was released. If not it's going to be just one more tweak to suit party their GM makes.

"Or they can run off the piss of the righteous"
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
Yeah, no this isn't just a fear of flying, it's an act of unspeakable evil, no good character could just pretend it didn't happen when they woke up.
Watch some more A Team. He usually wakes up outside of the plane...

If the paladin was meant to be able to see through the rest of the party's dubious stories about "how we got here", the class would be int or wis-based, not cha-based. Now if it was a cleric with scruples, they would be in trouble.....
 


gyor

Legend
What I get for using analogies...

App B: Infernal War Machine Rules
Soul Coins

An infernal war machine’s furnace consumes a soul coin instantly, expending all the coin’s remaining charges at once and destroying the coin in the process. The soul trapped in the coin becomes trapped in the furnace instead, powering the infernal war machine for a duration determined by how many charges the soul coin had when it was consumed: 1 charge, 24 hours; 2 charges, 48 hours; 3 charges, 72 hours. If it’s still trapped in the furnace when this duration ends, the soul is destroyed. Not even divine intervention can restore a soul destroyed in this manner.

Demon Ichor
Pouring a flask of demon ichor into an infernal war machine’s furnace increases the vehicle’s speed by 30 feet for 1 minute. While the vehicle’s speed is increased in this way, roll a d20 at the start of each of the driver’s turns. On a 1, the vehicle suffers the Furnace Rupture result on the Mishaps table (see "Mishaps").

From my reading of it, using the Demon Ichor boost adds to the vehicle's existing move speed for one minute. For instance, if you boosted the Tormentor, it would go from 100 feet per round to 130 feet per round for 10 rounds/1 minute. However, it says nothing about Demon Ichor being able to power the vehicle on its own; both the Appendix and elsewhere in the text state that you need Soul Coins.

So if the existing speed is 0, then it would go to 30.

But honestly having Phantom Steeds pull it makes more sense, they are faster, 100 or more with something like Haste cast on them.
 

PsyzhranV2

Adventurer
I like that idea. It solves the moral dilemma AND has the characters take the Mad Max out of it and try to return it to the horse-drawn world that they are familiar with.
So if the existing speed is 0, then it would go to 30.

But honestly having Phantom Steeds pull it makes more sense, they are faster, 100 or more with something like Haste cast on them.
Phantom Steed uses the statistics for a Riding Horse except for its 100 speed.

A Riding Horse's base carrying capacity is 480 lbs. Its capacity to pull a carriage would be 2400 lbs

The Phantom Steed would only be able to pull the Devil's Ride, which weighs 500 lbs. The other War Machines are too heavy. And the Devil's Ride can only fit one person on it.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think for some the complaint is that there is cool stuff in the adventure essentially inaccessible to Good characters.

Exactly. A moral dilemma is not "do evil stuff or have no chance of success."

I remember some modules for LG (4E) that made you choose between two equally evil fiends. We chose neither which should have been an auto fail, but our DM let us get around it.

If there's no option for good PCs I'm not interested.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Exactly. A moral dilemma is not "do evil stuff or have no chance of success."

I remember some modules for LG (4E) that made you choose between two equally evil fiends. We chose neither which should have been an auto fail, but our DM let us get around it.

If there's no option for good PCs I'm not interested.
The Good option is to walk.
 

Reynard

Legend
The Good option is to walk.
The question is, "Is that a viable and fun option in the adventure?" I think having different paths and possibilities for good versus morally ambiguous characters is a worthy design choice but if the PCs that actually want to be good get screwed that's that acceptable.
 

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
The question is, "Is that a viable and fun option in the adventure?" I think having different paths and possibilities for good versus morally ambiguous characters is a worthy design choice but if the PCs that actually want to be good get screwed that's that acceptable.
It's viable, but much more dangerous, cause you are going to get attacked by bands with massive advantages over you that you can't escape from easily without your own Warmachines.
 




5ekyu

Adventurer
Which is the question I have: is it an option?

It's one thing if I'm running the game because then I can tweak it. But if you are forced to do evil or hit a likely TPK then it's not for me.
There are a lot of variables at play and like any adventure of most any complexity above simple there are going to be some combo of players, groups, preferences etc that may need tweaks.

Can your group travel high stealth for long periods? Or are you gonna stand out like sore thumbs? Can you evade infernals or are you obliged to kill them on sight? Is your flavor of hood one thst requires all good acts or are occasional deals with dark guts yo scvompludh greater hood sometimes an option?

This us likely gonna need tweaks for oath of purity types of campaigns but from what I read most others are likely fine - getting some major hod heroism done in very challenging "behind enemy lines" setup.
 

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