An adventure that sees mortal adventurers journey to the Lower Planes and the damned surface of Avernus itself, players in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus can expect a hell of a ride. This adventure is beautifully written, well presented, and is accompanied by detailed lore and exceptional artwork. The themes that are interwoven in this adventure are different from typical adventuring campaigns. Descent into Avernus deals with falls from grace and redemption, as shown through the example of the Archduke of Avernus, Zariel herself; facing evil in its many forms, but the necessity of weighing actions against the greater evil; and ultimately sacrifices and compromises, sometimes not knowing if there will ever be a reward for selfless action, or if there is, knowing it may not go the way you might think. For in Avernus, even the most virtuous act can be twisted and corrupted.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a straightforward and well thought out story for a party of four to six 1st level characters who should progress to 13th level or higher by the end of the adventure. They begin in the namesake of the adventure, the sprawling city of Baldur’s Gate, then journey to the library fortress of Candlekeep before they are transported to Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells, in a desperate attempt to save the city of Elturel from a horrid fate. Throughout the course of the adventure, players will come face to face with some of the greatest threats to the multiverse, and not always as enemies, though certainly not as friends. They will have to address which is the greatest goal, and whether compromising to parlay or even broker deals with these other evil forces in order to accomplish a greater good is worth the sacrifice.
The adventure is linear and unambiguous as players will advance from 1st to 5th level before reaching Avernus. The first five levels serve as introductions to players and the Dungeon Master to the adventure, as well as setting the stage for the adventure as a whole. Each person at the table is different and unique, and making sure everyone has familiarity, both in-person and between characters, can help make things run smoothly further down the road.
After they are transported to Avernus, characters arrive in Elturel, which is chained to the surface of the Nine Hells and at risk of being drawn into the River Styx. This is where the characters learn about their greater task, and what it could ultimately take in order to save Elturel and its survivors. Once reaching the scorched surface of Avernus, the adventure begins to shift as multiple avenues open before the adventurers. Their decisions have ramifications that could spell doom or salvation not only for themselves, but for the remaining innocents of Elturel.
There is no one correct way to pursue victory in Avernus, no true method to achieve success. In a realm like Avernus, there is always a need to compromise. No one leaves the Nine Hells untouched or untainted, and many never leave at all. That said, this adventure recognizes that there are several opportunities, all of them realistic if not readily apparent, for success and victory, but also for degrees of failure as well out outright defeat.
The resources provided regarding lore and mechanics for running an adventure in the Nine Hells are extremely useful in making the environment itself feel hostile. They are written to be specific to Avernus, as each layer of the Nine Hells is unique and presents its own challenges, but certain aspects from Avernus can be applied to other layers or used as inspiration by Dungeon Masters looking to expand the scope of the Nine Hells.
There is also a not-insignificant amount of history and lore for the Forgotten Realms, far more than some other supplements and adventures from Wizards of the Coast. The key part for this book is that the lore in Descent into Avernus is relevant to the adventure, and the way that it is incorporated and presented makes it interesting for players and provides an interactive and useful resource for the story.
In the Baldur’s Gate Gazetteer, there are more than 50 pages dedicated to the history of the city, the state in which it currently finds itself, locations, key NPCs, as well as options for characters and encounters players might encounter in and around the city. The evil and degeneration of the city plays a key role in the overall story, and its integration into the adventure is presented for further expansion or simplification. This section also brings to light one of the sources of lingering corruption in the city, adding to the list of potential hooks for players during the introductory section, or for players to return to.
The information regarding Baldur’s Gate is also presented in a way that makes it useful as a standalone resource for an adventure or campaign set in the Forgotten Realms. Baldur’s Gate is a remarkable city, regardless of it being integrated into Descent into Avernus or another adventure. This is particularly applicable regarding the influence of the Dead Three (Bhaal, Bane, and Myrkul) and their attempts to claw their way to greater prominence and control in Baldur’s Gate.
Four Appendices supplement this book, each providing additional resources and references for the adventure. In Diabolical Deals (Appendix A), details about making deals and contracts with devils are covered, as well as charms and boons that might be offered by greater devils. Infernal War Machines are covered in Appendix B, because who doesn’t want to “Mad Max” their way around Avernus on an infernal motorcycle spitting flames? There are details about Magic Items (Appendix C), from artifacts to weapons forged in the fires of the Nine Hells. Finally, stat blocks for monsters not in the Monster Manual can be found in Appendix D. Some of the monsters are expansions of the many fiendish offerings in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, focused on the pertinent demons and devils characters might find in Avernus. Additional stat blocks can be found in the relevant chapters (and a few in Appendix D) for enemies and NPCs players might encounter in the time in Baldur’s Gate, Elturel, and Avernus.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus might be the most dynamic, well-thought-out adventure for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons I have ever read from Wizards of the Coast. It follows beautifully the line between a guided story, where the Dungeon Master brings the players to the stage where the greater story is told, and then the adventure is presented in a way that allows for multiple avenues to reach creative solutions. There is a clear progression of challenge in mechanics and enemies, as well as the escalation of stakes for the players, but there is also freedom for creative Dungeon Masters to streamline or expand the adventure to put their own unique spin on things. The greatest lesson in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is that while evil might be real and dangerous, and seemingly overwhelmingly powerful, there are good people willing and able to face it and fight. Because that is what this adventure is all about, from the events at Idyllglen to the conclusion of the adventure, that darkness shall fall and light will prevail.
So journey into Avernus without fear. Okay, maybe just a little fear.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is published by Wizards of the Coast.
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