D&D 5E Descent Into Avernus & Mad Max: Why the adventure ultimately failed (to me!)

TheSword

Legend
I have to say it. The stupid, cutesy, forgetful, baby elephant creature Lulu was particularly annoying. Dragging PCs around by the nose and being the driving force behind the adventure progression. I really hated playing it.

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Yora

Legend
I actually like the idea of having to run away from a more powerful foe. It just has to be powerful enough and telegraphed that they can’t defeat the enemy. While at the same time they still need to interact with it otherwise it’s a nameless threat that serves little more than a device. That’s a difficult needle to thread.
I think making encounters tailored to be unbeatable is still a poor approach. Ideally you would want to make it undesirable and unsustainable to keep facing the pursuers, and make fleeing more attractive and efficient to advance to whatever goal you have.

Which again comes down to the adventure needing a good structure.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think making encounters tailored to be unbeatable is still a poor approach. Ideally you would want to make it undesirable and unsustainable to keep facing the pursuers, and make fleeing more attractive and efficient to advance to whatever goal you have.

Which again comes down to the adventure needing a good structure.
That may be so, but an encounter slant like that is pretty much what you need in order to get the kind of rolling vehicle combats wotc clearly wanted to put in. Absent some kind of fate style taken out mechanic there isn't much reason beyond "let's give it a try" novelty of the car not to just stop the vehicles and fight like normal if the persuant doesn't just drive away.

Dia wasn't as bad as frost maiden but that's a hideously low bar & doesn't say anything about the severe screw the mage bias it has with monster & treasure setup on top of the mediocre disconnected fetch quest plot.
 

ECMO3

Hero
Your DM must have seriously beefed up the encounters then. By a couple of orders of magnitude. Which was probably quite sensible.

I actually like the idea of having to run away from a more powerful foe. It just has to be powerful enough and telegraphed that they can’t defeat the enemy. While at the same time they still need to interact with it otherwise it’s a nameless threat that serves little more than a device. That’s a difficult needle to thread.

Bear in mind that in 5e running away is rare for all the reasons discussed in other threads… and PCs are as like to fight to the death rather than surrender or flee. At least until it is too late. It causes problems.

They were actually not that powerful. They were just stirges but there were like a thousand of them. We were trying to kill these knights that were being kept alive and crucified on trees by Zariel. We wanted to put them out of their misery. Each time we killed a knight dozens more stirges joined the melee. We ended up using AOEs to waste the knights and then fled on the rover.

The stiges are not powerful alone but their numbers would have overwhelmed us if we did not flee.

To be honest though that particular DM is the best I have ever played with, like Matt Mercer good.
 

TheSword

Legend
They were actually not that powerful. They were just stirges but there were like a thousand of them. We were trying to kill these knights that were being kept alive and crucified on trees by Zariel. We wanted to put them out of their misery. Each time we killed a knight dozens more stirges joined the melee. We ended up using AOEs to waste the knights and then fled on the rover.

The stiges are not powerful alone but their numbers would have overwhelmed us if we did not flee.

To be honest though that particular DM is the best I have ever played with, like Matt Mercer good.
Well a thousand stirges is several orders of magnitude more than anything described in the books.

Sounds cool though.
 

ECMO3

Hero
That may be so, but an encounter slant like that is pretty much what you need in order to get the kind of rolling vehicle combats wotc clearly wanted to put in. Absent some kind of fate style taken out mechanic there isn't much reason beyond "let's give it a try" novelty of the car not to just stop the vehicles and fight like normal if the persuant doesn't just drive away.
Not counting when we fled, most of the other cars we fought had great ranged weapons and I think we would have done worse if we stopped.

Our party was a Ranger/Cleric, Barbarian, AT/Bladesinger (me), Monk

Me and the Barbarian were both melee oriented builds. Being a wizard I would have been ok at range with spells if we stopped, but my spell selection was definitely geared toward melee, not slinging spells at range, and I don't think I had anything that matched the range of the harpoons and such on the vehicles we fought. The Barbarian would have been nearly useless if we stopped and the Monk and Ranger were pretty good using the harpoons and other weapons we had on our vehicles, so I don't think they would have been any better if we stopped.

If I was the DM and we stopped, I would have just moved the enemy vehicle a couple hundred feet away and sniped at us from there outside of the range of the "crowd pleasing" spells. If we tried to close with them on foot I would drive further away. This would also separate the party as the best ranged weapons we had were actually on the vehicle, so if we stopped our ranged folks would have been immobilized essentially. Add to this that you had cover on the vehicle and not on the open wasteland.

As it was we were constantly trying to close, the barbarian would leap on to their vehicle. If I was not trying to ram them or something I would misty step on to it while the other two shot at it.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
For those interested, The Alexandrian gave DIA a poor review, saying that its concepts didn't live up to its execution:


There's also a multipart series on how to "remix" the adventure, making it into something better than the published work turned out to be:

 

TheSword

Legend
Not counting when we fled, most of the other cars we fought had great ranged weapons and I think we would have done worse if we stopped.

Our party was a Ranger/Cleric, Barbarian, AT/Bladesinger (me), Monk

Me and the Barbarian were both melee oriented builds. Being a wizard I would have been ok at range with spells if we stopped, but my spell selection was definitely geared toward melee, not slinging spells at range, and I don't think I had anything that matched the range of the harpoons and such on the vehicles we fought. The Barbarian would have been nearly useless if we stopped and the Monk and Ranger were pretty good using the harpoons and other weapons we had on our vehicles, so I don't think they would have been any better if we stopped.

If I was the DM and we stopped, I would have just moved the enemy vehicle a couple hundred feet away and sniped at us from there outside of the range of the "crowd pleasing" spells. If we tried to close with them on foot I would drive further away. This would also separate the party as the best ranged weapons we had were actually on the vehicle, so if we stopped our ranged folks would have been immobilized essentially. Add to this that you had cover on the vehicle and not on the open wasteland.

As it was we were constantly trying to close, the barbarian would leap on to their vehicle. If I was not trying to ram them or something I would misty step on to it while the other two shot at it.
So I hate to contradict you but maybe your DM had changed quite a bit of stuff there as well. The harpoon launchers on the vehicles have 120 ft range and there are generally one per vehicle. They do an average of 11 damage each on a hit. There is no earthly way a typical party at 7th level could be out ranged or out gunned by a fleet of them let alone one. Your Firebolt cantrip alone would almost match that javelin thrower!

It sounds like your DM seriously beefed them up. Sensibly. Maybe I should have done the same. Although to be honest the opponent outranging you is an argument for turning around and engaging them in combat, not having a running battle at distance.
 

TheSword

Legend
I think making encounters tailored to be unbeatable is still a poor approach. Ideally you would want to make it undesirable and unsustainable to keep facing the pursuers, and make fleeing more attractive and efficient to advance to whatever goal you have.

Which again comes down to the adventure needing a good structure.
I do agree with you. I’m not a fan of unbeatable combats. My preference would probably be a selection of side encounters and opportunities that if the party takes advantage the pursuing horde becomes greater. The more locations the party travel to the more hangers on the horde gathers and the more challenges and obstacles the party has to overcome. With opportunities to delay or degrade the horde at certain points instead. I would have liked a set piece battle at some point as some kind of climax.
 

I personally redid the entire hell portion to focus on belief that the balance needs to be maintained for the fate of the know planes. So it's a shift form a series of fetch chains into a game of complex deal making and breaking to just keep the war going. Added in some major players like Mordekainen and a elder evil to put the scope and scale of what the party is up to in its place.
 

I personally redid the entire hell portion to focus on belief that the balance needs to be maintained for the fate of the know planes. So it's a shift form a series of fetch chains into a game of complex deal making and breaking to just keep the war going. Added in some major players like Mordekainen and a elder evil to put the scope and scale of what the party is up to in its place.
That sounds sick!

One thing I LOVE about the "materials" of DiA is that you can actually take this adventure a lot of radically different places. I have one friend who, of course removing all the railroad and story stuff, ran it as a BLoodborne-esque game where the players were in Elturel and slowly realizing that they and the city had been dragged into Hell. Nuts!
 

TheSword

Legend
That sounds sick!

One thing I LOVE about the "materials" of DiA is that you can actually take this adventure a lot of radically different places. I have one friend who, of course removing all the railroad and story stuff, ran it as a BLoodborne-esque game where the players were in Elturel and slowly realizing that they and the city had been dragged into Hell. Nuts!
Now THAT is an idea!!!
 

ECMO3

Hero
So I hate to contradict you but maybe your DM had changed quite a bit of stuff there as well. The harpoon launchers on the vehicles have 120 ft range and there are generally one per vehicle. They do an average of 11 damage each on a hit. There is no earthly way a typical party at 7th level could be out ranged or out gunned by a fleet of them let alone one. Your Firebolt cantrip alone would almost match that javelin thrower!
Maybe she did I don't know. I do know our Ranger and Monk both had ranged weapons (a non-magic long bow and non-magic short bow respectively) and they always used the harpoons instead of those weapons. If I remember correctly the harpoons were also magical weapons, which means they would do a lot more damage to the actual enemies that came against us than the mundane weapons they were carrying. Maybe that is why they used them? As most of what we fought were lycanthropes or fiends of some sort. When we first got the scavanger the only magic weapon we had was an axe+1 our barbarian used (later we found a magic dagger and a vicous staff and near the end a very powerful magic sword), but I don't think we ever had magic missile weapons .... (I was smart enough to silver my short sword before we went to hell, so I was generally effective).

I didn't have Firebolt, I did have chill touch which would have been able to range them if their range was only 120, and I did use that, but that is not nearly as effective as melee where I could use extra attack (with one booming blade) and get a 2d6 sneak attack.
 
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Swedish Chef

Explorer
I ran DiA for our group. The entire adventure was through Roll20 due to local lockdowns during the pandemic, but in some ways it actually helped make the adventure better.

I had read through the Alexandrian Remixes as well, so I knew to limit the Devil/Demon road section and how to make it more interesting. Even still, after the 3rd "get me this in order to get that", the players were ready to mutiny. So instead of the 5 or 6 quests, it was 4.

The real plot twist - once the players discovered that the war machines ran on soul coins, they collectively decided to destroy any war machines they encounter. It put them at a serious disadvantage when it came to combat and travel time, but I made up for it by introducing the traveling caravan earlier on. One sold soul later and the party had a flying carpet. :devilish:

I also did not like the idea of Lulu. Instead, one player wanted a ring of Mind Shielding. So, random treasure granted and look! it just happens to contain the soul of the hollyphant, trapped all these years! The player would receive whispers from me and she would choose what information she wanted to reveal to the party. But the way she roleplayed her character, the rest of the party was convinced she was a split personality and she never bothered to try and correct them. Lulu actually turned out to be one of the best aspects of that adventure for our group! :ROFLMAO:

Overall our group thoroughly enjoyed it. One player sold his soul for power and was turned into a spined devil at the end. The rest of the party saved Zariel and managed to return Elturel to the Realms. The paladin "fell", but redeemed herself in the end. The cleric was estatic when she finally freed Lulu from the ring and helped restore her physical body. And the bard worked hard to become a leader of Elturel once it was returned to the Realms.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I have to say it. The stupid, cutesy, forgetful, baby elephant creature Lulu was particularly annoying. Dragging PCs around by the nose and being the driving force behind the adventure progression. I really hated playing it.

I played DiA and the GM was struggling with the entirely forgettable Lulu. She was either forgotten about, or annoying, or just felt like she could be any other Mcguffin.

When I ran it, I thought about replacing her with Zariel's sentient Shield. Something that had a reason to be with her, could remember everything given the chance, had a good relationship with her, but was something less than a full person that I had to RP. It could be literally just put in the backpack and pulled out when needed.

In the end though, I went with the mini-flying-war-mammoth, but it was a badass. It keeps forgetting it is tiny, which is where its humour came in. It would charge doors or even walls, expecting them to splinter to peices. It lives for battle and defeating evil. It has spiked hooves and chains between its tusks, like the Ollyphants from LotR movies. It is always raring to go and trying to charge into 'help'. It is a more like a pitbull than anything cutisie. That helped a great deal. It felt more like a hyperactive beloved little brother than a shoehorned NPC they were forced to care about.

I am running another campaign with evil characters who will soon reach Avernus. I am unsure what to replace Lulu with in that one. One is a vampire, the other an uncontrolled lycanthrope, they do terrible things that Lulu would want no part of. They are fiercely loyal to the Elturel though, so that part is not a problem.
 

pukunui

Legend
I am running another campaign with evil characters who will soon reach Avernus. I am unsure what to replace Lulu with in that one. One is a vampire, the other an uncontrolled lycanthrope, they do terrible things that Lulu would want no part of. They are fiercely loyal to the Elturel though, so that part is not a problem.
I am curious to know the story behind a vampire who is fiercely loyal to a city with a second sun designed to turn vampires to dust.
 

I didn't buy this adventure for a very simple reason: demons. Demons are boring. There is no uncertainty about their motives, or subtlety about their plans. Their only use is to be summoned as living WMD. (yeah, I know it's mostly Devils, but demons still feature).

However, with regards to the ending, there is something we see in several WotC adventures: it's deliberately left fairly open so it can be tailored to match the decisions the players make along the way. The drawback of such an approach is it lacks the set-piece battle and sense of closure you would expect to find in a good story.

Fetch quests: These are the padding that fills most RPGs. You would be hard pushed to find an adventure that wouldn't be very short if you didn't stuff it with these.
 
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I think modeling an adventure on a movie is generally a poor prospect, and that of all movies that feel like they would be cool to play, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the worst to model an RPG after. The movie is one giant action sequence with minimal dialogue or spoken exposition (technically they didn't even actually have a screenplay). They actually had elaborate backstories and worldbuilding for everything you see on screen, but little of it is ever explained. And it is utterly glorious. But it is utterly glorious because it went through well over a year of editing down from nearly 500 hours of footage, carefully adjusting each frame in order to put as much effective VISUAL storytelling into each second of film that they could.

It is a landmark achievement in visual action storytelling, and that is not what D&D is about at all. The movie's achievements are in exactly what you don't have at a D&D table.

Add to this that the whole thing is a chase sequence and chases are the type of action sequence 5e D&D is worst at, and it really might be the worst action movie you could pick to base a D&D campaign around.
 


TheSword

Legend
Yeah quests where you find stuff are fine. For me when everyone started giving everything a term ( DPR, Tank, Sorlock, Fetch Quest, etc) started irritating me and put me off!

Maybe I'm old. Maybe that needs a thread.
I don’t know, fetch quests were a thing in Baldurs Gate, 6 years before world of Warcraft came along.

The general principal of a chain of folks to meet who do little other than give you the next piece in the chain is very dull.
 
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