Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus
Sinfully Good Time or Devilish Trick?
For the next major official D&D adventure path, we’re heading back to Baldur’s Gate and down into the depths of hell to battle fiendish schemes and infernal war machines. We’re here to delve to unspeakable depths to learn if this adventure is a sinfully good time or a devilish contract better left unsigned.
What’s the Adventure About?
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus takes place primarily in its two titular locations, the dangerous sprawling pirate port of Baldur’s Gate, and Avernus, the first layer of hell. Players will familiarize themselves with the mean streets of Baldur’s Gate for levels 1-4 before plunging into Avernus to rescue a fallen city during levels 5-13. This is no small collection of side adventures like we saw with “Ghosts of Saltmarsh”. Descent Into Avernus is a proper long-form adventure more akin to what we saw with “Stormking’s thunder”.
What’s in the Book?
Descent Into Avernus clocks in at 256 pages, which seems to be the norm that these official adventures have settled on. It’s got quite a few goodies beyond the adventure though, and may even be worth picking up for the extras alone. It includes:
- The Descent Into Avernus adventure path, progressing from 1st to 13th level
- The “Dark Secrets” background options (more on that later)
- Detailed “Devil Deal” rules and mechanics
- 4 new highly customizable vehicles (Infernal War Machines!)
- 12 new magic items
- 24 new monsters/NPCs with lore and stat blocks
- 25 gorgeous maps
The Adventure Path
One thing that I was incredibly worried about going into this adventure was that we wouldn’t get to experience Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate is a legendary D&D location and I was concerned we would only get to dip our toes into this rich setting before diving into hell. My fears were thankfully unfounded, it’s pretty apparent that the team behind this book loves Baldur’s gate and the city is wonderfully detailed and fleshed out. You can easily start any number of your own campaigns completely centered here and it makes me happy to see the classic locale brought fully into 5e. The same applies to Avernus, the first layer of hell is fully detailed and you could easily make your own hellscape campaigns using the tools provided here.
As for the adventure itself, the whole thing feels slimy, in a good way. From the start with the shared “Dark Secret” (more on that in a bit) to all the countless opportunities to use “soul coins” and other morally ambiguous things, everything here is designed to tarnish the player’s souls. I will be genuinely impressed with any player that goes through this adventure with a clean conscience. From the get-go, players are placed in difficult moral quandaries and are forced to choose between their own wellbeing and “good” in increasingly difficult situations. Just using the currency of hell has a moral consequence, as each coin contains a trapped soul. Avernus is designed to be miserable, and there are temptations around every corner.
The tone of the story is gritty, with great big swaths of dark comedy swirled in to “lighten” the mood. I particularly enjoyed “Infernal Rapture”, a swanky hell dining establishment where the maître d' is constantly trying to upsell you and collect your soul from the bill. It’s not all gloom and doom, and it’s not a walk in the park either. If you’re brand new to D&D or have brand new players, I think there are a LOT of opportunities to screw up and take the wrong devil’s deals. I recommend this as your group’s 2nd or 3rd adventure, once everybody has gotten their feet wet.
Descent Into Avernus has a very interesting extra that must be added to each player’s background. Each character has the same “Dark Secret” that links them together, such as participating in a murder or performing a robbery together. This all at once bonds the characters, presents a very interesting slice of everybody’s backstory and makes sure that nobody is entering hell with a clean slate. I love this little mechanic, it’s flavorful and extremely useful to me as a DM. I plan on taking this idea and running with it in my very next campaign.
Previously, everything regarding fiendish contracts was pretty vague and left to DM interpretation. With this, we now have in-depth rules on how the deals are struck, what each tier of fiend can provide, and just how to weasel your way out of them. I’m so glad they included this as it removes quite a bit of guesswork and the built-in loopholes and caveats are going to make for some fantastic roleplaying.
Infernal War Machines
Demon motorcycles. Now that I have your attention, they have DEMON MOTORCYCLES! I’m so glad they’re adding more vehicle rules and the Mad Max adventure of my dreams is a huge step closer to reality. The book includes 4 very customizable infernal war machines, each one is fueled by soul coins and their engines roar with the screams of the damned. It’s as metal as it sounds and they’re by far some of the coolest mechanics to come out in a long time.
12 New Magic Items
These all range in power from decent to EXTREMELY OVERPOWERED. Though for the OP ones you’re kind of expected to trade your soul for them, so that balances out. A couple of these are only plot-relevant but some are just damn fine interesting items you’ll want to drop in other campaigns.
24 New Monsters/NPCs
Unsurprisingly, most of these entries are of the fiendish variety. It also includes some neat and useful stat blocks for cultists back up in Baldur’s Gate, but the meat of this section is in the devils. All of them are welcome inclusions and I’m glad to see the official bestiary grow.
25 Gorgeous Maps
I wanted to emphasize the quality of some of these maps because they went with rather classical representations of hell and some of the maps look like medieval illustrations. I love the aesthetic and beyond their obvious gameplay uses, I’m just happy to see the art style.
What’s Good About the Book?
It’s a solid adventure, it drips with evil temptations and lets the players really soak in and explore both of the titular locations: Baldur’s Gate and Avernus.
There’s an extremely satisfying long-form adventure to be played here, and I expect this will be an essential adventure path for years to come.
It also brings enough lore and depth to both Baldur’s Gate and Avernus that DMs can easily run their own Baldur’s Gate and Avernus homebrew adventures.
The new side-mechanics are flavorful and well-done, even if you don’t run the main adventure, chances are you’ll find something you need in these pages.
What’s Bad About the Book?
I can’t recommend this adventure to new players. I see newbies getting caught in quite a few places and derailing the adventure or TPKing. The high density of “evil buttons” and temptation to press them will make for some interesting sessions and a LOT of rerolled characters. If you or your party are new or inexperienced, I recommend starting with something else and coming back to this.
The adventure is definitely worth playing and all the little extras really sweeten the deal for me. I think this is going to be an essential purchase for any Baldur’s Gate, Hellscape, or even just evil campaigns. The “Dark Secret” idea was a small thing on the face of it, but it just makes so much sense for an evil campaign and now that I have it, I can’t imagine running an evil campaign without it. This is a great book, and even with my trepidations about running it for new players, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with it.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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