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

MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
I don't have the book yet, so haven't read this... but why not just change the mechanism, so that after the soul powers the machine for 3 days or however many charges, they are released from the machine as a "free" soul in Hell?
Cause that takes the whole point of the thing away if you can just use them without feeling guilt.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Truthfully, I think something missing from 5e core is a magical resource that can be harvested (from a variety of sources), refined and manipulated.

Instead of "valuable brass spitoons" of a gold cost, things could be expressed in this commodity.

Then you can have demons harvesting it out of souls, etc. Others harvest it from other sources, etc.

The GP for spells in the form or goofy ingredients is one sacred vow that needs root be butchered and barbecued, imo.

Honestly, I'd just take my cues from MToF and replace "Soul Coins" with normal Gold, hit the players where it really hurts, their wallets.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Truthfully, I think something missing from 5e core is a magical resource that can be harvested (from a variety of sources), refined and manipulated.

Instead of "valuable brass spitoons" of a gold cost, things could be expressed in this commodity.

Then you can have demons harvesting it out of souls, etc. Others harvest it from other sources, etc.

The GP for spells in the form or goofy ingredients is one sacred vow that needs root be butchered and barbecued, imo.
To be fair, in traditional esoteria, that resource would actually be gold.
 

Parmandur

Legend
I think trying to take out soul coins is missing the point of them.
I wouldn't take them out because I don't understand them, nor am I horribly offended by them. I honestly think the average D&D player would have greater moral qualms about giving up their gold than burning up a Goblin soul.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
I have heard BGDiA does not really involve Baldur's Gate all that much. Is this Wizards being slightly misleading again?
 

PsyzhranV2

Explorer
I haven't read the adventure yet. Do they play any role other than powering some machine?
They can be used as currency for if you need to make some quick deals with the local denizens and don't feel like giving up your souls. Avernus spoilers: You want to keep a stockpile of them for when you visit the Wandering Emporium; whatever you do, don't get into debt with Mahadi, the market's owner.
 

PsyzhranV2

Explorer
I have heard BGDiA does not really involve Baldur's Gate all that much. Is this Wizards being slightly misleading again?
You start in Baldur's Gate cleaning out cultists of the Dead Three and discovering what the Devils are up to, but make the plane shift to Avernus at Level 5. The book comes with a gazetteer of Baldur's Gate for if you survive Hell and eventually return to where you started, or if you want to run your own adventures in Baldur's Gate.
 

Parmandur

Legend
@PsyzhranV2 @Parmandur Cheers bruvs! That is good to know.


How Hellish is Avernus? Is it pedestrian and sanitized? Or does it actually depict Avernus as a hellhole?
Just picked it from my FLGS a couple hours ago, have only skimmed so far (art aloneis worth the price, possibly the most beautiful 5E book yet AND I LOVE 5E ART), but Hell is just the worst. There is a player handout menu from an Avernus restraunt, and it is horrible.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
Truthfully, I think something missing from 5e core is a magical resource that can be harvested (from a variety of sources), refined and manipulated.

Instead of "valuable brass spitoons" of a gold cost, things could be expressed in this commodity.

Then you can have demons harvesting it out of souls, etc. Others harvest it from other sources, etc.

The GP for spells in the form or goofy ingredients is one sacred vow that needs root be butchered and barbecued, imo.
In 4e, all the magical resource from breaking down magic items was called residuum. Seems like as good a label as any.

But the whole point of Soul Coins is the souls, and they have other uses in trading and bargaining in Hell.
 

PsyzhranV2

Explorer
@PsyzhranV2 @Parmandur Cheers bruvs! That is good to know.


How Hellish is Avernus? Is it pedestrian and sanitized? Or does it actually depict Avernus as a hellhole?
Avernus is not a nice place to live. Nobody who lives there is happy about it.

Everybody and their mother is comparing this book to Mad Max, and I'd say the comparison is pretty on the mark, at least as a starting point. Most of the plane is split between various warlords (think Immortan Joe) who have risen to fill the power vacuum that Zariel's negligence has created. Players can expect to encounter a few of them and to have to defend themselves from mugging and grand theft auto. Meanwhile, the Blood War continues to rage on, and sites of Abyssal corruption in Avernus from the constant invasion of Demons are easy to find.

Also, the book contains some optional rules to make the lives of non-Evil characters in Avernus even harder. It includes the Pervasive Evil rule from the DMG that turns characters Lawful Evil if they fail a DC 10 Wis save every time they long rest, but also includes a rule that makes normal travel equivalent to forced march for non-Evil characters, with the exhaustion levels that come with it.

Oh, and Infernal Rapture, the restaurant @Parmandur mentioned, is the best food you can hope to get. A second choice is going hunting for Abyssal Chickens, which taste like chicken. Everything else on the plane, whether brought from the Material, foraged from Avernus, or created via magic tastes like ash at best.
 

Xenonnonex

Adventurer
Just picked it from my FLGS a couple hours ago, have only skimmed so far (art aloneis worth the price, possibly the most beautiful 5E book yet AND I LOVE 5E ART), but Hell is just the worst. There is a player handout menu from an Avernus restraunt, and it is horrible.
Avernus is not a nice place to live. Nobody who lives there is happy about it.

Everybody and their mother is comparing this book to Mad Max, and I'd say the comparison is pretty on the mark, at least as a starting point. Most of the plane is split between various warlords (think Immortan Joe) who have risen to fill the power vacuum that Zariel's negligence has created. Players can expect to encounter a few of them and to have to defend themselves from mugging and grand theft auto. Meanwhile, the Blood War continues to rage on, and sites of Abyssal corruption in Avernus from the constant invasion of Demons are easy to find.

Also, the book contains some optional rules to make the lives of non-Evil characters in Avernus even harder. It includes the Pervasive Evil rule from the DMG that turns characters Lawful Evil if they fail a DC 10 Wis save every time they long rest, but also includes a rule that makes normal travel equivalent to forced march for non-Evil characters, with the exhaustion levels that come with it.

Oh, and Infernal Rapture, the restaurant @Parmandur mentioned, is the best food you can hope to get. A second choice is going hunting for Abyssal Chickens, which taste like chicken. Everything else on the plane, whether brought from the Material, foraged from Avernus, or created via magic tastes like ash at best.
Cheers bruvs! This does sound suitably hellish and amazing. This book has become a must have purchase.
 

Perun

Mushroom
Except gold is worthless in 5E.
We're in a nautical-themed campaign, 9th level now (started at 3rd, IIRC), and we're constantly running out of cash... ship repairs & upgrades, crew wages (especially crew wages!), etc. are eating almost all of our hard-plundered wealth...

Just as an example of how the worth of gold can depend on campaign. This is the first 5e campaign I played in, so I don't know how the game actually plays if you follow the guidelines in the rulebooks.
 

Matrix Sorcica

Adventurer
We're in a nautical-themed campaign, 9th level now (started at 3rd, IIRC), and we're constantly running out of cash... ship repairs & upgrades, crew wages (especially crew wages!), etc. are eating almost all of our hard-plundered wealth...

Just as an example of how the worth of gold can depend on campaign. This is the first 5e campaign I played in, so I don't know how the game actually plays if you follow the guidelines in the rulebooks.
Salaries these days....

But to put in context, in Descent into Avernus, you're running around in Hell most of the time. What use is gold there?
 

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