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

gyor

Adventurer
Inspiration has just struck me.
Play an Eloquent Bard. You will be more able to convince Zariel to atone. Use her feather for a booty call.
Sounds like fun, but I'm picturing Lulu giving me dirty looks as her redeemed mistress is corrupted once again, in a whole new way.

Actually it occurs to me to wonder what happens to Zarielian Tieflings and Zariel Fiend Patron Warlocks when she gets redeemed? Do they become Aasimar and Zariel Celestial Patron Warlocks?
 

Delazar

Explorer
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.

So, if a coin has 3 charges, I can charge the machine for 48 hours, then take out the coin, and it will still have 1 charges?
 

PsyzhranV2

Explorer
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.

So, if a coin has 3 charges, I can charge the machine for 48 hours, then take out the coin, and it will still have 1 charges?
Did you miss the first sentence? The coin is destroyed when you first put it into the furnace, no getting it back. Instantly consumes, expends all the charges at once, yadda yadda.
 
Did you miss the first sentence? The coin is destroyed when you first put it into the furnace, no getting it back. Instantly consumes, expends all the charges at once, yadda yadda.
However one could release the souls prior to their destruction and let the gods sort it out, right?

Moral quandary solved.
 

Delazar

Explorer
Did you miss the first sentence? The coin is destroyed when you first put it into the furnace, no getting it back. Instantly consumes, expends all the charges at once, yadda yadda.
You're completely right... aw well, I guess they got that coming, bad evil souls from Hell!
 

Delazar

Explorer
However one could release the souls prior to their destruction and let the gods sort it out, right?

Moral quandary solved.
yeah, this line it's what got me thinking ". If it’s still trapped in the furnace when this duration ends, the soul is destroyed. "

makes you think there's a possibility to release it before it's destroyed. But the first sentence says "it consumes"
 

BMaC

Explorer
Love the gazeteer. My players want to know if it is too SPOILER for them. I told them I think so. They are good at Chacter knowledge vs. player knowledge but some of the info I think is proper spoilers. For those who have read it, agree? Maybe not big ones but I thought I spotted a couple plot spoilers
 

rcsample

Explorer
yeah, this line it's what got me thinking ". If it’s still trapped in the furnace when this duration ends, the soul is destroyed. "

makes you think there's a possibility to release it before it's destroyed. But the first sentence says "it consumes"
I think there still is room for possibility. The soul is transferred to furnace, coin is destroyed. If you can the free the soul from the furnace before the duration ends, Bob's your uncle...
 
I think there still is room for possibility. The soul is transferred to furnace, coin is destroyed. If you can the free the soul from the furnace before the duration ends, Bob's your uncle...
Finding out how seems like a noble goal for those concerned Good characters, too. What must one do to release souls trapped in an infernal engine before they are obliterated?
 

Delazar

Explorer
It's probably been discussed before, but I don't even see the moral quandary. PCs kill goblins by the scores all the time, most of my players don't even consider the fact that they "go to hell". It's just "they're the bad guys, we kill them".

And why would "consuming" the soul be an evil act? Aren't you saving a soul from being tormented in Hell for eternity? Or is THIS the evil act? Saving an evil soul from its torment? Not so sure about the whole cosmic balance mumbo-jumbo.

Don't know, for me it's just a cool mechanic, here, pop a coin go for a ride!
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
And what does that have to do with an act bring evil or good?

Didnt you just establish that using a soul gem... destroying souls...

"destroying souls is Evil with a capital "E"."

That seems to view an act isolated on it's own as evil.
Even in the context of surviving to do some big good thing, its evil.
Not "unless it's for profit..."

But, when it comes to a character who refuses to do good acts... then what? If the character is paid to save the child from demonic sacrifice that act is no longer a good act?

For an act to be good and a problem for this theoretical "wont commit good acts, in your definition, both the act itself and the motivation must be good.

But for an act to be evil, and a problem for your hypothetical "wont commit evil act" character, the act just has to be evil itself and even if the cause is good then that's still a problem ?

Is that right?

If so, I think the percrption of how this being a one sided module problem cuz there are not its opposites etc... is actually more related to the differing standards and definition you set for good and evil "acts "
Has there ever been a mod that said "Challenge the morals of evil characters by making them make hard choices of good acts?" If there has been, I don't remember it. There have been a fair number of "go to the aid of the defenseless orphans or the rich nobles who have their own guards and are probably going to be okay." Even "the PC getting paid to rescue the child" is still getting paid. There's nothing stopping that PC (other than local authorities) from going back later and finishing the sacrifice.

Part of this does revolve around the fact that there are very few unremittingly "good" acts. But in every mod I've read an evil (or neutral) characters can find some motivation that doesn't conflict with their alignment or personality trait. They're trapped in the underdark and must escape. If they don't stop those crazy cults the world ends. They've been hired and there's promise of further rewards.

But I will gladly admit this is a pet peeve of mine. Too many games (particularly in LFR) forced players into no win situations. Choose between two fiends. Aid an obviously evil NPC commit a heinous act or the mod is over after the first 15 minutes. No XP or gold for you! Destroy souls or don't get to take advantage of one of the most fun aspects of the game. Moral dilemma means commit evil acts to achieve your goals.

Making people violate their alignments, oaths and ideals does not make it "deep" or meaningful. It's a cheap "gotcha" tactic, a parlor trick. I get that real life is messy. We face versions of The Trolley Dilemma sometimes. That doesn't mean I want to deal with it in a game. YMMV.

All of which is fine. This may just be a mod I'm not interested in.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm still not convinced that destroying a evil soul is an evil act. If I'm not mistaken, devils (and demons) are "evil souls given form", and when they're killed in their home plane, they're gone for good. Would you consider that an evil act?
Is there a guarantee that all the souls are evil? Because that's not the impression I got - if the coins are used up but not destroyed the soul continues on to their final reward was the wording.
 

Delazar

Explorer
Is there a guarantee that all the souls are evil? Because that's not the impression I got - if the coins are used up but not destroyed the soul continues on to their final reward was the wording.
It is my understanding that the souls trapped in the coins are the souls of those who ended up in Hell, or that made bargains with devils (hence, their soul would end up in Hell).

Their final reward being, eternity in Hell.

I suppose good gods wouldn't allow good souls to end up in Hell?

Which brings me a bit back to my previous point, all this stuff is as "gray" as you want it to be, and a lot of players won't even bother with it.

Same way they don't think Squirz the goblin has a family, and he's only pillaging this farm to bring some food home. They just slaughter Squirz. Because they're Heroez :)
 
Same way they don't think Squirz the goblin has a family, and he's only pillaging this farm to bring some food home. They just slaughter Squirz. Because they're Heroez :)
One of the reasons I like Eberron is that is does away with that kind of "this race is pure evil" nonsense -- unless that race happens to come from the equivalent of Hell or the Far Realm. Goblins might lean "evil" but rakshasa are EVIL.
 

gyor

Adventurer
Regarding the soul coin dilemma...
It is clear that it was written to give the players a moral dilemma, that can be interesting at many tables. But if not?... First things first, any DM could rule it out if he wanted.
But then, what's a soul coin? If the entrapped souls are in hell because of their actions in life, they deserved their fate, even their suffering. If one goes warlock, for example, he forfeits his soul, then he has to expect eternal suffering after death, after all.
(One could even argue that destroying the soul is a better fate for her then eternal suffering, and that spending the coin "frees" the soul.)
There is true moral dilemma ONLY if the trapped souls are of non-evil people. In that case, a good PC should avoid to spend the coins.
No one deserves suffering for eternity. And lots of people end up damned in D&D that don't deserve it. Remember those poor kids in Waterdeep? A lot of those who make deals with devils are desperate, not evil folks, in fact I wouldn't be surprised in most soul coins were from the desperate and hellfire weapon murder victims instead of evil folks. The innocent, but desperate make for the best targets for devils, smart evil doers worship gods that reward their evil and don't need infernal deals. It's the poor, the stupid, the uneducated, and the terrorified that make much easier targets of devils and those who weild Hellfire weapons (honestly I don't know why devils bother with deals when they have hellfire weapons to murder and damn souls).
 
No one deserves suffering for eternity. And lots of people end up damned in D&D that don't deserve it. Remember those poor kids in Waterdeep? A lot of those who make deals with devils are desperate, not evil folks, in fact I wouldn't be surprised in most soul coins were from the desperate and hellfire weapon murder victims instead of evil folks. The innocent, but desperate make for the best targets for devils, smart evil doers worship gods that reward their evil and don't need infernal deals. It's the poor, the stupid, the uneducated, and the terrorified that make much easier targets of devils and those who weild Hellfire weapons (honestly I don't know why devils bother with deals when they have hellfire weapons to murder and damn souls).
I don't have the adventure but maybe it is for the fuel? Can only souls owned by devils get forged into soul coins?
 
No one deserves suffering for eternity. And lots of people end up damned in D&D that don't deserve it. Remember those poor kids in Waterdeep? A lot of those who make deals with devils are desperate, not evil folks, in fact I wouldn't be surprised in most soul coins were from the desperate and hellfire weapon murder victims instead of evil folks. The innocent, but desperate make for the best targets for devils, smart evil doers worship gods that reward their evil and don't need infernal deals. It's the poor, the stupid, the uneducated, and the terrorified that make much easier targets of devils and those who weild Hellfire weapons (honestly I don't know why devils bother with deals when they have hellfire weapons to murder and damn souls).
Quality vs. quantity I would think. It is better (more satisfying to the ego and efficient for the organization) to rule over a bunch of talented subordinates than just a mob of near zombies. Why waste Hellfire on dirt farmers when you can set up a society where people (or dwarves or elves or whatnot) turn their eyes from oppression and start rationalizing it? That should give you plenty of cannon fodder with minimal work. Besides zapping peasants with Hellfire or even dragging mortal cities in the 9 Hells is soooooo demon lord; you notice that archdevils who have been running their levels for more than a blink of an eye aren't doing anything so tacky. Lawful used to mean having standards, don't ya know?
 

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