descent into avernus

‘D&D Descent in Avernus’ Session 0 (ish)

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Descent Into Avernus: The Fall of Elturel

A week had passed since Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and little Joe emerged from the dark vaults beneath the Brandath Mausoleum with fistfuls of gold. Having successfully heisted those dragons and returned the city’s stolen gold, Alan’s Bureau of Investigators took some time to kick back and relax in Trollskull Manor. The City Watch was being rebuilt, the Dock Ward was being rejuvenated, and Little Joe was sitting comfortably on his own big pile of gold in his bedroom.   

Last night was the first session in our online Dungeons & Dragons: Descent Into Avernus campaign. We’re playing it as the sequel to our Dragon Heist campaign; the characters remain the same, but the stakes are about to become much, much higher.

This session is a kind of session 0 for the new chapter in the campaign. Usually in a session zero you set the tone and expectations for your players, but here, the session 0 is more of a segue into the new story.

The setup

We started playing Dragon Heist over two years ago and recently completed that campaign. My players wanted to continue playing their (now) level seven characters, and so we agreed to continue—although now we’ll play fortnightly instead of weekly, due to life and things. I hadn’t told them what campaign I’d be running, but I think they might have now guessed (some of them even read this blog).  

Descent into Avernus isn’t written as a direct sequel to Dragon Heist, but it looks like a really fun story and a few quick searches online reveals plenty of helpful articles on how to segue between the two. To help do this, I’m using a one-shot from Anthony Joyce and Justice Arman available on the DMs Guild called Fall of Elturel. It’s set up as a first level adventure, but with a few easy tweaks (basically giving the enemies double the hit points and doubling the number of villains), it should work well for my level seven group.

descent into avernus

We play online using Roll20’s digital tabletop platform, and use Trello and DnDBeyond to keep track of NPCs and campaign information. We also stream all our sessions live on our Twitch channel: dnd_TPK. For the entirety of our Dragon Heist campaign our cumulative number of Twitch viewers was less than the number of number of words in this sentence, but hopefully we can increase this over the course of the upcoming campaign. We joke that we had forgotten we were playing on a platform others can view around the world—the world also seems to have forgotten this.

Our Adventurers Are:

dragon heist

Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – brave, muscly, and prepared to die for his friends. A paid-up member of the Dungsweepers of Waterdeep, and benevolent custodian of Waterdhavian orphans.
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a Harper, private investigator, and secret wererat in denial. Recently engaged to Istrid Hrone (cleric and ex-Zhentarim agent).
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric/Warlock – a trickster priestess of Tymora, also pact-bound to Golorr the aboleth. Still reeling from accidentally murdering 20 policemen. ABSENT
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – a keen law-breaker, mischief-causer, and scourge of the fenêtreman’s guild. Tricked into joining an evil organization, and so now very suspicious of everyone.

Unfortunately, due to having been wrongly incarcerated for trading rare Pokémon cards which they mistook for Game Stop shares, Arvene was unable to join us last night. We’re hoping the sentence will be lifted on compassionate grounds. It was a Clefairy after all.

Previously…

Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and Joe have been through the mill. Over the course of the last six months, three of them have died and been brought back to life, two have accidentally committed heinous acts of murder, and one has become a snarling wererat once every full moon. Now, having successfully discovered the Vault of Dragons beneath their home in Waterdeep and returned some of the gold therein to the people of the city, they have returned to their home in Trollskull Manor for a well-deserved break.

In the previous session, they were approached by Laearal Silverhand, the Open Lord of Waterdeep, with a mission to investigate a mysterious Cult that was apparently hiding out in the Elturgard Woods. They didn’t really want to do it, but Laearal is very convincing, and seemingly has all the details of everything they have ever done wrong. Alan and Co. are under orders to meet Reya Mantlemorn in a tavern in Elturel and explore the rumors of the mysterious cult. They have been politely asked not to create a political “situation.”

The Companion of Elturel

We began the session with the players in a coach heading south from Waterdeep.

After a few days of uneventful travel south, the coach approached Elturel. The roads became wider and busier with trades people and travelers passing. The woods that lined the sides of the road began to thin out and eventually, as they crested another hill, they glimpsed the fabled Companion of Elturel. Its light was blinding, and it took a while to adjust to the white glow that bathes the city beneath it. The holy Companion and the city of Elturel are famous throughout the Forgotten Realms, but Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and Joe had never witnessed it before. It was like a magical second sun hovering over the city. Across the Sword Coast stories tell of the fabled divine sphere that protects Elturel and its inhabitants from harm. A shining golden orb, this beacon as an unmoving star that hangs low over the horizon and can be seen clearly from 50 km away, which is roughly how far they found themselves from their destination and the tavern known as A Pair of Black Antlers.

So the session started with an overly detailed description of the city of Elturel and the magical second sun that protects it. I was really hamming up the description and was sure my players would be suspicious as to why this feature should get so much attention. However, instead of boarding this particular train of thought, Little Joe wanted to mention that in the time since the previous campaign had ended and now, Little Joe had acquired a pet parrot. Its name was Rochester.  

“Rochester It Is”

Much of the next 20 minutes were taken up in roleplaying the transaction between Little Joe and a shopkeeper reluctant to let this bright blue drow leave his establishment in possession of an innocent animal. However, some very good charisma and animal handling rolls from Little Joe (19 and 20) meant that not only did he persuade the parrot to be his companion, but that it would also obey some very basic commands.

Little Joe did try to rename the bird a number of other, not-at-all-suitable-for-work, alternatives, but the bird wasn’t having it. Eventually Little Joe acquiesced, “OK, Rochester it is,” he said. To which the bird replied, “Rochester it is.”

I decided that this is now the only thing the parrot will ever say.

You meet in a tavern

Back to the action, and they arrived at their destination. Here in the tavern they met the leaders of three vying organization, each with a stake in the events of the Sword Coast. Represented were the Order of the Gauntlet, the Flaming Fist, and the Hellriders.

The meeting was a very one-sided affair and my players didn’t seem interested in interrupting me as I pretended to be three different old men arguing over how to infiltrate a cult. So to cut things short, they accepted the mission, whatever it was.

They also agreed to let Reya Mantelmorn accompany them. Reya was a twenty-something human female, member of the Hellriders, and apparently had some history with Istrid Horne (Alan’s fiancé). She knew the area and was keen to set off immediately into the woods to find the cult.

Into the Woods

As they made their way out from the city of Elturel and into the Eltugard woods, they talked to Reya about their recent exploits and asked what her motivations were. She claimed to be a Captain of the Hellriders and a very important warrior, although Dugg was dubious, and his insight check (18) revealed she was clearly lying and/or omitting some key information.

As they traveled deeper into the woods they passed a wedding ceremony occurring under the glow of the Companion. The bride and groom invited Alan and Co. to witness them recite their vows, but Alan wasn’t interested, and so they missed out on a blessing which may or may not have given them protection against the monsters they may or may not have been about to meet.

Following on from this uneventful matrimonial encounter, the heroes witnessed a small girl being chased by wolves up a tree. This time they were interested, if only to do something other than talk to “boring NPCs.

Wolves

The girl had managed to climb a tree and was calling out for help when Alan, Dugg, Joe, and Reya rode past. The wolves were clearly rabid and so the heroes fought them off and rescued the little girl. She was called Grace and she rode a donkey called Lonkey that looked worse for wear. As a thanks for rescuing her, she offered a piece of thread from her rainbow knitted scarf and said that someday she would be a famous scholar and that the heroes should find and her give her back the thread and she could aid them in their endeavors. They didn’t seem convinced apart from Little Joe’s parrot, “Rochester it is.”

As they left the clearing and headed deeper into the wood Little Joe noticed another wolf following them. This one was far scrawnier and weaker than the others and so Little Joe decided to keep him, adding to his menagerie. Rochester agreed, “Rochester it is.”

Cultists

Finally, they arrived at a clearing and Alan, being a ranger and at home in the woods discovered some tracks. Funnily enough, this is the first time he’s ever been able to show off his acute woodsman skills. The previous campaign was entirely city based—65 two-hour sessions and not once did he get a chance to use his impressive survival abilities.

Alan discovered three sets of tracks and they had a choice to make—it was a moot point, really, as they would end up in the same place, and likely kill all the cultists one way or another.

Alan called the party to “Hush,” and gave the universal sign for three enemies lurking ahead. Dugg and Little Joe nodded ignorance. Alan, infuriated drew his short sword. This they understood. A quick melee ensued. Dugg rushed forward and tackled one, Alan skewered another, and Little Joe immolated the third in magical flames. Reya stood dumbstruck.

“Did we not want to interrogate them to see how many more were here and ask what they were doing?” The others shrugged. “Idiots,” she swore.

“Rochester it is,” said the parrot. End.

Afterthoughts

A fun introductory session, and a good way for us to get back into the swing of things. It was a shame that Arvene couldn’t be there, but she’ll magically appear in a shrub at the beginning of the next session and no one will think anything of it.

The Fall of Elturel is a really good story, so I don’t think it matters too much that it’s supposed to be a first-level adventure and that my players are actually level seven, although I may decide to make the enemies a bit meaner next time. Reya’s going to want a piece of the action too!

What did we learn?

DM Tip: If your player wants their character to have a pet, don’t fight it. But, just like real life, you might have to remind them it’s their responsibility to feed it, change its bedding, take it for walks, and protect it from fireballs. If the parrot and wolf survive their upcoming Descent into Avernus, then clearly I’m too soft a dungeon master.

Next time we’ll continue to explore the Eltugard Woods, hopefully find out a little more about this mysterious cult and then conveniently segue into a brand new campaign.

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