A lot of twists and turns. A host of monsters, especially devils and demons. An army of NPCs. And a stunning array of epic setpieces — ruined cathedrals, floating cities, tattered hellscapes, nightmarish dream sequences.
That and a whole lot more is what you’ll find inside Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, the latest hardcover adventure from Dungeons & Dragons’ 5th edition.
The 256-page tome, which is available starting today, is classic epic D&D. This is a battle that spans multiple planes of existence and pits regular folks and fantastic beasts against archdevils and gods. There’s a lot to love here, and the adventure (which spans from level 1 to level 13 and beyond) will give your gaming group one epic campaign to enjoy.
Though it’s titled Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, there’s not a whole lot of Baldur’s Gate here.
Surely, it’s a popular locale among us D&D nerds and it might rope in a few fans of the video game series who have yet to try their hand at the pen and paper RPG, but the lengthy adventure module has five chapters and only one of them takes place in the walled city.
In fact, the fate of another city, Elturel, is the chief concern of most of the adventure, and an adventure into Avernus in the Nine Hells will have to be undertaken to save it. (This all ties into Baldur’s Gate because it will be next unless the evil plan of archdevil Zariel is thwarted, and naturally, a group of conspirators in Baldur’s Gate is working to make exactly that happen.)
In chapter one, the adventurers will be pressed into service by the Flaming First mercenaries to help keep the peace in Baldur’s Gate. But they’ll quickly exit the city for Candlekeep.
Eventually, the adventure moves to Elturel, a nearby city that has fallen into the Nine Hells and is anchored there by enormous chains. It will soon be pulled down to Avernus and become a permanent fixture there, where it will likely be torn apart in the raging Blood War between devils and demons.
And that’s where the meat of the adventure is: Traveling around Avernus in an infernal war machine, staving off evil deals with evils and eventually seeking the Sword of Zariel.
You see, the archdevil who rules Avernus was once an angel, and it just might be possible to redeem her.
Along the way, there are a whole lot of ins and outs. And NPCs. And traveling. And deals to be made. And agreements to broker. While there’s definitely a through-line from beginning to end, there are a lot of possible ways to get there.
The possibilities for alliances and deals are seemingly endless, and they’re also fraught with peril. Make a deal with the wrong devil, and you could be in some serious trouble.
And once it’s all over, they still have to get out of Avernus.
The action starts pretty much immediately. Upon entering Baldur’s Gate, the adventurers will be drafted by the Flaming Fits to stop a murder spree. That leads them to a tavern, which leads them to a hideout, which leads them to a tavern, which leads them to a hideout, which leads them to a dungeon, which leads them to an infernal city, which leads them to ruins and so on and so forth.
It just keeps going like that. Pretty quickly, you’ll be leading the group through the Nine Hells as they seek out artifacts and ruins and avoid the searching claws of many, man, many devils.
That it takes place largely in the Nine Hells will provide some entertainment for DMs if not for their hapless players. The warped geography of the place can wreak havoc on travel. Seemingly idyllic spots often turn out to be destroyed ruins. Once a prosperous city, Elturel has split in two and about to drown in the river Styx.
It’s a wild time.
Though many pieces of the adventure could easily be pulled out for one-shots or to be used in your homebrew campaign, Descent Into Avernus seems (possibly more than any 5e adventure before it) to be best if played as one long cohesive campaign.
Simply put: Everything is tied to everything else.
That makes things interesting later in the game as separate paths begin to emerge. In chapter three, which takes place in Avernus, the characters will eventually be given two options to find the Sword of Zariel, each of which will have different outcomes.
I have to give it up for the art direction in this book. Everything is gorgeous. The landscapes are absolutely hellish. So are the splash artwork of devils and demons and NPCs. It’s a freaking nightmare, and it looks wonderful. (And while I’m usually indifferent to the special FLGS-exclusive covers, this one is out of this world. The skull cover art and back cover art of the archdevil Zariel is simply gorgeous. I also love the included poster map of Avernus and Eltruel.)
The dungeon maps are once again done in a hand-drawn style by Dyson Logos, and I feel this is the best implementation of this style yet. The maps look nice but are still simple enough to read at a glance, which is helpful in a book this dense.
The book’s general layout is also enjoyable. One example: In past 5e adventures, all NPC and monster stats were in the back of the book in a single appendix. For Avernus, monster stats that appear often in the book (but aren’t in the Monster Manual) are still the back of the book. (Make sure you have a sturdy bookmark or another way to keep that page tabbed.) But NPC stats and monster stats are placed prominently on the page in which they appear in the text, which is incredibly helpful. When Arkhan the Cruel or an abyssal chicken shows up, you won’t have to flip back and forth during those encounters. The stats are right there.
Also helpful is a guide early in the book tells you what chapters are good for what character levels. And even more helpful is a chart in each chapter that lays out which locations and quests in that chapter are appropriate for each level.
That’s good for DMs running this as a complete campaign or for those who simply wish to pull out a specific dungeon (say, the High Hall cathedral in chapter two, which is good for 5th level characters).
The book only spans five chapters, but four of those five chapters are massive entries. (The Sword of Zariel chapter is essentially one climactic dungeon.) This will provide a whole lot of meaty adventure for anyone willing to take it on.
More than 50 pages of the book is dedicated to a gazeteer for the city of Baldur’s Gate itself. It’s helpful for that first chapter, I guess, but unless you’re going to spend a whole lot of time in the city, it feels like extra padding to make the book feel longer.
Of course, it does call back to Murder in Baldur’s Gate, a module from way back in 5th edition’s D&D Next playtest days. Murder’s authors are credited in Descent Into Avernus, but there’s not much information that’s directly transferred from one book to another.
Some of the NPCs and many of the faction information is similar between the books, but even the sections that are substantially the same (info on the city government and history, for example) have been redone. And a lot of the info in Descent’s gazetteer — especially tables on interactions, denizens, threats and so forth — are brand spanking new.
I very much enjoy Descent Into Avernus’ appendices. Of course, there are the standard magic items and creatures entries, but there’s an entire four-page appendix on making deals with the devil (or devils, as it happens) as well as a seven-page entry on infernal war machines. (If you’re gonna travel in Avernus, you gotta do it in style.)
And while the creature appendix itself details 24 creatures such as Baphomet, Zariel and a redcap, the book itself features another 22 creatures throughout. A dozen magic items and countless maps make this one jam-packed module.
If you’re up for an epic campaign, get a copy.