‘D&D’ Descent Into Avernus – Session 1

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GeekDad Plays D&D: Session 69 – Elfsong Tavern

Suddenly the cries of horrified citizens and children filled the air as the material plane split open. A tear ran through the sky, accompanied by the most horrific ripping sound. A chasm opened up in the ground beneath the city of Elturel revealing the fiery depths of hell beneath it. Alan, Arvene, Dugg, Joe, and Reya stood dumbstruck as they watched Elturel and the Companion above become ripped into the hellish void as massive infernal chains latched onto the city and dragged it down into Avernus. The inferno was blinding and accompanied by a deafening blast that stifled the screams of those trapped in Elturel. In an instant Elturel was no more. Elturel has fallen.

Last night was the 69th game in our GeekDad Plays D&D campaign, the first proper session in our online Dungeons & Dragons: Descent into Avernus story. We’re playing Descent as the sequel to our Dragon Heist campaign; the characters remain the same, but the stakes have just gotten 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.

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 used an excellent 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 it worked excellently as an Descent into Avernus-primer for my level seven group.

Currently, we are playing Descent into Avernus online via Zoom, 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. So, if you like watching four geeky adults sit in bemused silence whilst a fifth tired parent yells at them in culturally unsympathetic accents, why not join our channel every Monday night at 8 GMT. Alternatively you could do something constructive with your life, meditate, or write a list of all the people that have wronged you, publish it on the internet thinly veiled as a collection of session write-ups for an imaginary online Dungeons & Dragons game.

 descent into avernus

When it first came out, I wrote a review of Descent into Avernus for GeekDad; I think it still holds up.

Our Adventurers Are:

descent into avernus

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 in Descent into Avernus…

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, having traveled to Elturel, they witnessed the wondrous Companion, met Reya Mantlemorn, and fought some cultists in said wood. Little Joe also began collecting animals for a traveling circus; so far he has a talkative parrot called Rochester and a nameless wolf who sadly didn’t survive the battle in the last game. When they began to make their way back to Elturel to report their achievements, the party witnessed the city and its fabled glowing Companion get sucked in Hell.

Six days later

After witnessing the fall of Elturel, Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and Little Joe decided to head back to Waterdeep to report on what they had seen. They joined a throng of thousands of refugees, uprooted from their homes in Elturel as it was sucked into the void. After a couple of days they lost track of Reya, who was trying to help as many people as she could, and so they marched with everyone else towards Waterdeep. On day six, they spotted the great walls of the city on the horizon and joined the masses of migrants all attempting to gain entry. Luckily, for the party, they were soon spotted in the crowd by some of the guards who drank in Trollskull Tavern.

So the session began with a time jump six days into the future. They arrived at the gates of Waterdeep and were greeted by two familiar guards. Who allowed them through, and bemoaned the thousands of émigrés Waterdeep was taking in. They were immediately directed towards Captain Staget, who was leaning on a wall, smoking a cigar, and looking moody.

Captain Staget

Captain Staget, then provided some timely exposition:

“This refugee crisis is stoking fears in the city. Fear that Waterdeep will be next to fall into hell. Did you know that Laeral Silverhand was visiting Elturel when it vanished? So now Waterdeep’s rudderless and the nobles are fighting like rats in a bag. What’s more, there’s a whole load of cultists filling the void left by the Xanathar Guild and those damn Zhentarim. So now Waterdeep’s plagued by the followers of the Dead three—the gods Band, Bhaal, and Myrkul.”

Alan and Co. gasped and nodded at all the right times. Or they would have if any of their players actually kept notes. Even Rochester the parrot was keeping up.

Staget continued: “A mutual friend of ours is waiting for you in the Elfsong Tavern. She’s shacked up with a spy named Tarina. Be careful, mind. Waterdeep is much worse than when you left it. (two weeks ago)”

They recognized the name of the Elfsong tavern from their exploits in the Eltugard woods. That was where Reya had said some cultist activity was going on. They didn’t realize, however, that the mutual friend was in fact Reya. So they spent the next 20 minutes trying to work out who it was.

Player tip: take notes.

The Elfsong Tavern

They arrived at the Elfsong tavern and were let in by the two burly bouncers. One a half-orc with a scar running the length of their bare torso, the other an animated suit of armor. The tavern was full of groups of sailors and rough-sorts who paid Alan and Co. little to no attention.

The elf behind the bar poured their drinks and asked their business. This would have been an opportune moment to say, “We’re looking for Tarina; do you know her?” To which the barman would have said, “Yes, she’s upstairs playing cards.” They then would have gone upstairs, met Tarina, and left the tavern, peacefully going onto the next part of their adventure.

What Alan actually said was, “We’re here on secret government business to inspect the fire safety precautions in local taverns. We’ve heard there’s been some issues here latterly and it doesn’t look good. Although we could be persuaded to turn a blind eye—if you know what I mean.”

The barman did not know what Alan meant, and having poured their drinks decided he didn’t need to talk to them anymore. So the group sat down at an empty table to discuss their plan.

Before they got very far the lights in the tavern dimmed. The room fell hushed and an ethereal spirit rose gently up through the floorboards. A couple of patrons began to laugh and clap. This was Alan Alyth, the ghost of the tavern, and he usually sang bawdy songs. This time he sang:

O Sing a song of Elturel
Of water, woods and hill
The sun dawns on her ruddy cliffs,
And fields green and still.
This land of long-abiding joy
Home of the strong and brave
Renowned by all across the realms,
And never once a slave.

“O sing a song of Elturel
When foes are at her door
Her fields torn by Cloven feet
From some infernal shore.
Arise the mighty Hellriders
Take up your swift, keen swords
Then charge into the hellish fray
And scatter devil hordes.

“O sing a song of Elturel
And when the night does fall
Sleep safe beneath Companion’s light
Until the dawn does call.
We’re bound by mortal covenant
That only ends with death
And so we’ll sing of Elturel
Until our final breath.”

Friends like these

After the ghost’s song, the noise in the tavern rose to a general murmur as the patrons discussed how much of a shame it was that the song wasn’t “Gerty’s lost his trousers” again. Alan and Co. mused on the meaning of the words, connecting the dots between their experience in Elturel and the references to the Hell Riders and devil hordes, and the fact that this campaign is called Descent into Avernus.

Then, suddenly, a group of angry-looking bandits burst into the tavern. The leader was a brawny man with a clouded right eye, a cruel sneer, and a pirate’s swagger. The bandits who followed in after him were an unsavory rowdy bunch who acted as if they owned the place.

“We’re looking for an old friend of ours,” bellowed the leader to the room. “Goes by the name of Tarina. A tall glass of ale for anyone who tells us where she is.”

Little Joe, feeling mischievous as ever told him she had just gone outside for a breath of fresh air. This was of course a lie, but Little Joe rolled a very high deception check, so the lead bandit dashed outside to catch her.

Moments later, Dead-eye re-entered the tavern looking furious. Little Joe changed his appearance and hid by the bar. He didn’t alter his parrot however, and so his disguise was easily foiled.

Moments later, the bandits all rushed upstairs, after a patron indicated that Tarina was playing cards in the lounge. Alan and Co. followed them upstairs, wishing they’d asked first.

A bar brawl erupted once they arrived as Dead-eye had Tarina by the throat, threatening to “spill her guts.”

Ever chivalrous, Dugg stepped in and punched Dead-eye. Dead-eye turned to face Dugg and raised his scimitar.

ROLL INITIATIVE!

A battle that lasted way longer than it should have then began. The first round, not a single one of the party managed to hit a bandit. There were eight enemies, all very low level so it should have been a walk in the park—this is after all only a level 1 encounter and my players are level seven.

But by the end of the second round, there were only two bandits left. The leader and one that talked a bit like Elvis. Arvene took out the Elvis-alike with a Sacred Flame as Alan and Dugg attempted to help Tarina get away from Dead-eye. They weren’t having much luck, so Little Joe did what he usually does.

Two fierce jets of fire blasted out from the sorcerer’s palms as Dead-eye was incinerated on the spot. His final words were burnt to a crisp before he could utter them and then the tavern caught fire too. Within seconds, the whole upper floor of the Elfsong lounge was ablaze and patrons began running for their lives. Tarina surprising calmly stood up, dusting herself down. She looked at Alan and then Dugg, both sporting black eyes and bruised egos. She noticed Arvene in her nun’s habit wielding mace, and saw Little Joe, furiously trying to blow out the encroaching flames. “You’re Reya’s friends aren’t you? She said you were fun.” End

Afterthoughts

As the first Descent into Avernus session in the campaign proper, this was more exposition than action and there wasn’t a whole lot for my players to do, although the fight at the end was fun and they did enjoy the irony of pretending to be fire inspectors only to burn down the place they were inspecting.

Naturally, I’ve made some changes to the official Descent into Avernus campaign to make it work with my group. Those changes at this early stage are:

It’s set in Waterdeep not Baldur’s Gate.
I’ve replaced the evil nobles with the Cassalanters—already very familiar faction from Waterdeep.
We’re not using the Flaming Fist missions.
I replaced the encounter with Captain Zodge at the Basilisk Gate with Captain Staget.
Reya was introduced in the Fall of Elturel.
And Laeral Silverhand replaced Ulder Ravenguard as the high ranking diplomat who was in Elturel when it disappeared.

Having made these slight changes, the rest of Descent into Avernus hopefully will play out pretty much as intended—although it certainly doesn’t take very much for my players to get side-tracked.

What did we learn?

DM Tip: Just because one of the NPCs is supposed to sing a song doesn’t mean you actually have to sing it. Especially if, like me, your singing more likely resembles the sound made when a car reverses slowly over someone’s foot. Instead, you can just say the words of the song, even write them down and send them via a group chat, or perhaps find someone online who has already recorded the song and simply share a link to that. It’s much less embarrassing for everyone concerned. I wish I had thought of this tip prior to the session.

Next time they’ll head off with Tarina to find Reya, and join her in attempting to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on.

 

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