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

M.L. Martin

Adventurer
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!
Calling it now: 6E will be the first edition of the game to focus on Evil PCs. ;) :p
 
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MockingBird

Explorer
Is the Baldur's Gate Gazeteer the same as Murder in Baldur's Gate like some people are saying?
Just picked this book up today. I've only looked through it. The Bladurs Gate section seems to be the exact same as the info from Murder in Bladurs Gate. Even down to the same art work, which has always been really good. This isn't a bad thing, new DMs will find this section very helpful, especially since it's a good chance they missed the in between sundering adventures.

Saying that, if all you want is the Baldurs Gate fluff I'd suggest picking up Murder in Bladurs Gate. It's cheaper and it's nearly identical. If you want to mine dungeons and ideas then I'd recommend this book.

It looks really good and the concept art work included is amazing. Also to note, I picked up the last copy. It's rare in my area for a book to sell out on initial release. Also brings me to my next question, who and where are all these D&D players buying up books in me area?!
 

gyor

Adventurer
Just picked this book up today. I've only looked through it. The Bladurs Gate section seems to be the exact same as the info from Murder in Bladurs Gate. Even down to the same art work, which has always been really good. This isn't a bad thing, new DMs will find this section very helpful, especially since it's a good chance they missed the in between sundering adventures.

Saying that, if all you want is the Baldurs Gate fluff I'd suggest picking up Murder in Bladurs Gate. It's cheaper and it's nearly identical. If you want to mine dungeons and ideas then I'd recommend this book.

It looks really good and the concept art work included is amazing. Also to note, I picked up the last copy. It's rare in my area for a book to sell out on initial release. Also brings me to my next question, who and where are all these D&D players buying up books in me area?!
There are similarities, but it's not all the same stuff. Read through it closer. For example two of the Dukes from MiB are dead, so there are two new Dukes. And there are a lot more details. The BG background features are new, and same with dark secrets. Basically they updated and expanded MiB's Gazeeteer, with a lot more details.
 

Urriak Uruk

Explorer
Argh reading the reviews on Amazon makes me so mad... there are only 6 reviews posted right now, but the two critical ones only bone to pick is about the maps being black and white.

Someone literally writes that "I will rate any book with these maps a 1 star by default and return the book immediately."
 

gyor

Adventurer
There are similarities, but it's not all the same stuff. Read through it closer. For example two of the Dukes from MiB are dead, so there are two new Dukes. And there are a lot more details. The BG background features are new, and same with dark secrets. Basically they updated and expanded MiB's Gazeeteer, with a lot more details.
Comparing them, each has details the other doesn't, it's worth having both.
 
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I fell to temptation and bought it today. Appropriate, that.

An initial thought: if I run it I think I will have the players roll up there Dark Secret first before doing any other character generation stuff. If it's the common thread around which the party is built,it seems you should start there.
 

SkidAce

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.
I would say the esoteric components originated from the idea of sympathetic magic, which I like to an extent better than the "science" of magic.

 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I would say the esoteric components originated from the idea of sympathetic magic, which I like to an extent better than the "science" of magic.

Well aware of this concept. Even see it in play quite strongly in ArsMagica... but the implementation of 5e material components is as ludicrous if not more than it was in prior editions and frankly would be insulting to the sympathetic magic lore.

How many of them are just knock offs of modern childish jokes or idioms? How many tarts can you store in your component pouches for the pie to the face skit...err... spell casting? How long do those rotten eggs stay... er... fresh?
 

BMaC

Explorer
Can anyone confirm that the first factual statement that Elturel is in Avernus is from Mortlock Vanthampur at the end of the Dungeon of the Dead Three (p25-26)? Or did I miss earlier information about this?
 
Can anyone confirm that the first factual statement that Elturel is in Avernus is from Mortlock Vanthampur at the end of the Dungeon of the Dead Three (p25-26)? Or did I miss earlier information about this?
Do you mean from an NPC to the PCs? If so I think that's right. What exactly happened is a mystery to most folks, even those that managed to flee the city in time.
 

BMaC

Explorer
Do you mean from an NPC to the PCs? If so I think that's right. What exactly happened is a mystery to most folks, even those that managed to flee the city in time.
Yeah, there are rumors but I just wanted to be sure that Mortlock is the first person to say where Elturel actually went.
 
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Parmandur

Legend
I'll admit this book is way, way more effient use of space then Dragonheist.
So, I've had a theory for a while about Dragon Heist, and this book makes me more suspicious. I think that Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage were conceived as one book, with Dragon Heist being smaller and more focused on Manshoon (who was originally the sole villain, for sure, per Perkins), leading into the Dungeon itself. In this theory, one of the possibilities mentioned in DotMM for the Mad Mage's motivation would probably have originally just been the story.

But at some point, Undermountain went rogue, and the original intro chapter went rogue too and became a separate book. I blame Matt Mercer.
 

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