‘D&D Descent Into Avernus’ Session 0 (Part 2)

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GeekDad Plays D&D: Session 67 – The Eltugard Woods

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. Reya, stood dumbstruck.

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

“Rochester it is,” said the parrot.

Last night was the second preliminary session in our fortnightly 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.

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 is fewer than the letters in the word audience.

Our Adventurers Are:

dragon heist

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.
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, pact-bound to Golorr the aboleth. Still reeling from accidentally murdering 20 policemen.
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.  

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, the heroes traveled to Elturel, witnessed the wondrous Companion, met Reya Mantlemorn, and agreed to rid a wood of some cultists. Little Joe also began collecting animals for a traveling circus. So far he has a parrot called Rochester and a nameless wolf. 

Arvene in the Bushes

Wiping the blood from his knuckles, Dugg looked up and was surprised to see his friend Arvene emerging from the bushes behind him. She dusted the mud and leaves from her nun’s habit. ”Oh, hello. There you are. Don’t worry about catching me up, I saw everything,” she said.

So the session began with Arvene magically appearing behind the party. She wasn’t able to play last week and we didn’t have time to think up a clever in-game excuse, so instead she was just there and nobody asked any questions.

Having cleared the first of three sections (R3), they now had to decide where to go next. They could either go north or west. Alan tested his survival skills (18) and discovered that the path leading north was the mod well-trod. Naturally, they opted to go west.

As they rolled stealth checks, aided by Dugg Pass Without a Trace spell, Reya mentioned in passing to Alan that she knew Istrid well. Very well. This made Alan very uncomfortable, which was the point, and it drove a wedge between Alan and his companions whom all had warmed to Reya. Alan quickly had developed a hatred and contentment for her strong enough to light a thousand suns.

Moving west, they approached the second clearing and all rolled really poor perception checks. Therefore they only noticed one of the four cultists who were in the clearing, performing some kind of diabolical ritual. 

To make up for missing the previous session, Arvene took the lead. She cast Silent Image and an illusory chicken casually strolled into the clearing in front of the one cultist they had spotted. The other three were currently hidden behind a large rock.

Clive

On seeing the illusory chick strut past, the cultist called out, “Hey guys. There’s a chicken here. He looks casual.”

“Shut up Clive,” came the response from behind the rock.

Realizing that Clive the cultist was not alone, they made the most of being stealthy and planned a surprise attack. All five (Reya included) would simultaneously attack and hope to silently take out the first cultist before alerting the others. They all rolled really well and Alan’s bow, Little Joe’s Firebolt, Reya’s crossbow, Arvene’s Eldritch Blast, and Dugg’s silver hammer all stuck and incapacitated their target. Clive fell down dead silently. I then asked Little Joe to roll any die. On an even number something unknown would happen. He rolled a five. Nothing happened.

Moments later Little Joe leaped up to the rock which hid Clive’s alive friends and from his perspective he saw all three cultists. He shouted loudly, “Clive’s dead. Now it’s your turn,” and shot two twinned-spell Burning Hands at them. Two fell immediately leaving just one cultist standing. They ran away as fast as they could, screaming loudly, “Clive’s dead! We’re under attack! Clive’s dead! We’re under attack!”

ROLL INITIATIVE!

As the cultist ran away, the group gave chase. They only had a small amount of time before she got away from the clearing and closer to the rest of her cultist friends.

First, Alan shot with his longbow. Two arrows pierced her back. Then Arvene hit her with Sacred Flame; she let out a yelp. Then Little Joe shot a Firebolt in her direction. She just avoided the blast. Finally, Dugg giving chase, dived at her heels and grappled her to the ground.

Just as they were deciding if they should interrogate her for information, Reya’s crossbow bolt pieced her stomach and she fell to the ground dead. “Yes. I got one,” she hissed.

Rochester It Is

Moments later, the group had rummaged through the clearing and discovered very little. They were trying to be very quick and quiet, so I asked Little Joe to roll a die. Again, he rolled an odd number and so nothing happened. The tension was mounting.

More time passed and they heard footsteps approaching and jumped into the trees around the clearing. Another female cultist approached and let out an audible gasp as she saw dead Clive laid out on a stone altar.

To remain quiet and well-hidden in the trees, the heroes all rolled stealth checks, still aided by Dugg’s Pass Without a Trace spell. They rolled well and so the cultist, unaware of their presence, turned and made her way from the clearing calling out “Clive’s Dead.” She was almost out of the way entirely when I asked Little Joe to roll another die. This time he rolled even.

“Rochester it is!” bellowed out the parrot. Little Joe swore loudly. The cultist turned in her tracks, just as Little Joe let out a Sleep spell that knocked her out. She fell to the floor unconscious. Little ran to her and dragged her back to the clearing for interrogation. Reya drew her sword. Dugg shook his head. Alan and Arvene were still mad with Joe and the parrot.

The Cult of the Three

After a quick interrogation, they discovered the cultist was called Rose, carried a red rose, and was apparently only reluctantly a part of the cult. She gave details of the five cultists in the northernmost clearing and of Ben, the Fist of Bane, the leader of the Cult of the Three.

The Cult of the Three were in the woods to ambush the Cult of the Dragon and steal their horde. My players were already confused about the two present cults. If only two cults confused them, they were going to have a very hard time in the up-coming campaign. 

So, Which One Is Arvene?

The group then surprised me with an actual plan to assail the cultists in the third clearing. This was great until it all unraveled in less than 30 seconds.

They knew how many were there and that Ben, the leader, was a powerful mage. So the plan was for Arvene to cast Disguise Self and look like Rose, and then disrupt the ritual.

This was a great plan until the rest of the group crept up to the clearing and tried to work out which one Arvene was. All the cultists were wearing red robes with the hoods pulled up over their heads. They were circling a stone altar in the center of the clearing and chanting.

They had no way of knowing which one Arvene was.

Suddenly, the cultists all drew daggers and in turn began stabbing violently into the body on the altar. The figure on the altar, whom Arvene had presumed was already dead, let out a low moan. Arvene had a moment of hesitation. This did not go unnoticed by the leader of the cultists who angrily turned to Arvene. She beat him to the chase, however, and immediately cast Sacred Flame at the Fist of Bane. “Intruder!” he yelled. “Rochester it is,” came the echo from the bushes. End.

Afterthoughts

So far, this single session one-shot to segue into the next campaign has lasted two sessions and will likely go on for at least four more (although hopefully not). My players are quite good at getting distracted with imagined side quests, so I’ve been trying to keep the options for this down to a minimum during this adventure in the woods. It didn’t stop Little Joe from trying to follow an owlbear in the forest midway through a fight, though.

I’m really enjoying the Fall of Elturel and I think it’s a really useful one-shot for connecting any adventure into the Descent Into Avernus story.

What did we learn?

DM Tip: Try to think about what NPCs might say if questioned before the session begins. I’m not very good at this and often end up improvising dialogue that then accidentally sets up spontaneous five hour-long mini-adventures. To avoid this, I’ve begun writing down a sentence or two for every character the players may encounter, even if they’re really just cannon fodder cultists.

Next Time Alan and Co. face off against the Fist of Bane and his cultist cronies. Hopefully they’ll be able to work out exactly what’s going on before the big cinematic moment of this short adventure occurs…

 

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