‘Descent Into Avernus’ Go to Hell and Back With D&D’s Latest Adventure

D&D Adventures Featured Gaming Tabletop Games

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus

Descent inot Avernus

The Blood War between demons and devils finally wends its way into Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition and the results see players and DMs hurtling into Avernus, the first layer of Hell.

Announced in early 2019, Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus takes players from level 1–13. The story begins in Baldur’s Gate, a city of ambition, corruption, and murder, before the heroes are embroiled in a plot that crawls out from the shadows, edging towards the front lines of the infernal Blood War. Since it was mentioned in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, D&D players have been hungrily waiting for signs that the Blood War might feature in the next official campaign. Now, thanks to Descent into Avernus, that wait is finally over. And when you add a sojourn in Baldur’s Gate into the mix, you’ve just found the recipe for the kind of infernal cake this D&D fan is hungry for. But is it any good?

Here I use the same criteria of five simple questions that I’ve employed before to see if Descent into Avernus lives up to the hype. Those questions are:

Will I be interested in the story and will my players have fun?
How easy is it to DM with the material given?
What’s the best bit?
What’s the worst bit?
What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

Naturally, this article will contain spoilers.

Note: Click here to see what I thought of WotC’s previous 5th Edition offerings, Tomb of Annihilation Dragon Heist, and Dungeon of the Mad Mage.

Will I be interested in the story, and will my players have fun?

If your players spent any time playing Dragon Heist and the idea of a trip to Baldur’s Gate seems like just another city adventure, don’t be fooled. That is not the case. The city of Baldur’s Gate is set out to be the polar opposite of Waterdeep. Where Waterdeep is filled with friends and potential allies who are happy to see a new group of adventurers set up shop in the city, the denizens of Baldur’s Gate are far more likely to rob you at first sight, steal your socks, and sell you off to whomever they can. What this means is that you’re far more likely to get into a fight during the early stages of this campaign which your players might not be prepared for. Indeed the first real encounter in the campaign will see the level 1 players vastly outmatched and having to accept a job offer they otherwise might not. What it also means is that they will have more scope for playing characters that are not necessarily good aligned. That neutral evil warlock bound by a pact with an all-powerful aboleth will be right at home in this campaign.

But Baldur’s Gate is only the beginning. The story takes the heroes into planes of existence not yet covered in D&D 5th edition. Planar travel has always been on the periphery of this edition’s experience, but now it forms an integral part of this official campaign. After all how else would you get to the first layer of Hell?

In fact, the stay in Avernus makes up the majority of the campaign and it’s a DM’s dream location. There are deals with devils to be made, fantastic locations to be explored, and so much D&D lore to play with. So if that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that interests you, then you should probably rip up your character sheets, sell your dice and think about getting a real job, maybe in a bank.

How easy is it to DM with the material given?

Descent in Avernus is probably not for suitable a brand new Dungeon Master—try the Essentials Kit if you’re looking for a great way of starting off. However, you won’t need years of DMing experience to get to grips with this campaign. You’re definitely going to need the DM’s Guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook, but it’s probably also worth investing in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes to help build up the picture of what’s actually going on, as the backdrop for the campaign is the Blood War which is detailed in that book.

As for the rest, the WotC have really gone out of their way to make a challenging location and setup as easy as possible to run. Take traveling for instance. If this campaign were on the material plane, traveling from one location to another could take up whole sessions. Indeed in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, there are multiple chapters given over to single journeys the players make, but in Avernus, travel is something different. No location is a set geographical distance from anywhere else. It can take seconds, minutes, or days to get anywhere. The point is: it’s totally up to you as the DM how long you want a journey to take.

For any DM, some of the main challenges of running this campaign will be getting in the mind-set of the devils and coming up with interesting and enticing deals to offer your players. But once again, the writers of Descent into Avernus are one step ahead and there’s plenty of material in the book that helps you come up with exactly that.

My advice for any Dungeon Master looking to start this adventure would be to absolutely include a session zero. More than any previous module, this will help enormously in letting your players know what to expect and ensuring they are prepared for some of the inevitable encounters that they just cannot win.

What’s the best bit?

Where to start? There are infernal war machines and new updated rules for vehicular combat; cool cameos from recognizable faces like Arkan the Cruel and Mordenkainen; deals with devils; Lulu the Hollyphant; and it even makes Critical Role into D&D canon.

But, by far and away, the story and narrative of this campaign is the stand out feature. The scale on which players can affect the D&D universe is as yet unmatched in 5th edition. The actions of the heroes in this book have real ramifications on the Blood War and, through interactions with beings of unimaginable power, they can manipulate the course of the conflict. To a degree. But first they must decide which path they will follow. The path of Demons or the path of Devils.

Also really exciting are the different rules introduced for while the players are in Hell. Weapons break when you roll a critical fail, spells work differently, and just wait until your players try to take their first long rest…

What’s the worst bit?

It is unavoidably likely to be a bit railroad-y, especially at the beginning in Baldur’s Gate. Unlike some of the previous campaigns like Curse of Strahd, Dragon Heist, and Tomb of Annihilation, where players can essentially explore an open world and do things in any order, there are story beats that have to happen at set times in the campaign for the narrative to work out. For instance, if your players decide right from the start that they don’t want to join the Flaming Fists, then you’re going to have a hard time getting them to the subsequent encounters. However, once in Avernus they can have a bit more free rein.

Also, while the overall artwork in the book is very good, the quality and definition of some of the location encounter maps could be better. There has been a trend in recent 5th edition releases to include overly simple, black and white maps, which although very useful are not as evocative and inspiring as some of the once in previous campaign such as Princes of the Apocalypse.

What extras are there that I can use in future campaigns?

Lots. Maps, monsters, NPCs, ideas for what could happen next in your home campaign, Descent into Avernus has it all. If you’re playing a different campaign such as Dragon Heist, it would also be the perfect module to play next. With a bit of DM imagination, it would be very simple for level five characters to skip past the Baldur’s Gate sections and be dropped straight into Hell.

As for content, Descent into Avernus features 62 magical items, most of which would be perfectly suited to any campaign that touches on hellish themes. These include: infernal puzzle boxes, hellfire weapons, soul coins, and the legendary Sword of Zariel. Alongside the magical items, there are 4 infernal war machines, 38 monster stat blocks featured—including the now infamous Abyssal Chicken—and a glorious pull-out map of Avernus that goes some way to making up for the poor showing from maps inside the book.

Further to the campaign book, it’s also worth investigating the Descent into Avernus Dice & Miscellany, and the official Icons of the Realms Descent into Avernus minis. Not to forget the fabulous Alternate Cover campaign book.

Afterthoughts

Descent Into Avernus will be a really fun and exciting campaign for all concerned. Taking players from level 1-13 means there is content in this campaign that could last you a long time, so you certainly get plenty of bang for your buck here.

If you’ve been waiting for the D&D equivalent of Mad Max, then your time has finally come. Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a fun-filled tale of two cities that will test your players to the limit. Will they survive being level 1 in Baldur’s Gate? Can they escape the siege in Elturel? How will they fare in Zariel’s flying fortress? And what will they do when confronted by a weird flying tiny elephant with amnesia who just wants to be friends? There’s only one way to find out.

descent into Avernus

WE ARE AMAZON ASSOCIATES

Many writers on GeekDad & GeekMom are Amazon Associates, and the links included in some of our pieces will generate a small affiliate bonus from qualifying purchases.

Liked it? Take a second to support the GeekFamily Network on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *