Book Review

A new Dungeons and Dragons release is always cause to celebrate, and upon hearing the sales pitch of an adventure that sends the party into the first layer of Hell, I had to fight the urge to dance naked in the woods like the witches of old… or most nightclubs.  Now, I don’t normally run pre-written adventures, but these books are filled with ideas, plot hooks, and NPCs that can be used in any home-brew setting.  Just looking at the artwork for Avernus and some of the inhabitants, I was already thinking of ways to send my players to the infernal depths.  After summoning my new unholy tome that is Descent into Avernus, I immediately glanced at what was included, and was pleasantly surprised that not only did we get the adventure, but sections on deals with devils and infernal war machines.

So, let’s make a deal, yes?  I will share with you my thoughts and secrets on how to use this book… and in return, you give me your immortal soul.  When you are done with it of course, no rush.  


Baldur’s Gate

If you are using the Forgotten Realms as your setting, then the Chapter outlining Baldur’s Gate will assist you in fleshing out the city and create a solid foundation for your adventure.  Even if you don’t use this setting, you can incorporate this chapter into any Gotham City-style archetype for your own game.  The map of the city provides a real feel for the city and important locations for the players to visit.  It also divides up the city into different areas, such as the lower docks or the outer city.  This way you can give these areas a different vibe.  A tavern by the lower dock is going to have a more blue collar feel with a bit of a criminal underbelly; as oppose to the upper class sections or even the farmers in the outer city.  We also get an in-depth look at the political system and some of the key players.  Baldur’s Gate being an extremely corrupt place, it is easy to picture plot hooks for the players to assist these NPCs or play the adversary.  Is the party looking to clean up the streets or are they more open to joining the Thieves Guild?  Baldur’s Gate plays a big part in the first two chapters of the adventure, but don’t be afraid to rip some of these themes or characters right out of the book for your own campaign.      


Deals with Devils and Infernal War Machines

Before we dive into the adventure, I would recommend skimming the sections on Deals with Devils and the Infernal War Machines toward the end of the book.  When trying to survive in an unforgiving Hellscape, you will need help from the locals and a sweet ride.  The infernal war machines will help you traverse the land, but this section also provide rules for combat that evokes images of a life-or-death chase scenes akin to Mad Max.  However, my personal favorite supplemental has to be the section outlining the art of the deal… with devils.  The most interesting tidbit is that not all deals are overtly trying to screw the players.  Remember, your players will be wary of making a deal with a devil (be concerned if they are not), so when first approached with a deal, it should be something agreeable to the players.  Devils are trying to survive in Avernus just like everyone else, so an adventuring party can perform tasks or eliminate competition for a devil in return for a favor.  This will cause the party to gain a small semblance of trust that the Devil can feed off of.  Keep in mind that Devils are immortal and will play the long game; they don’t call them sly Devils for nothing, eh.  Devils will of course try to look for loop holes or vague contracts, but once signed, all parties honor the contract or face the wrath of Asmodeus.


The Adventure Begins

(Minor Spoilers)

The Descent into Avernus adventure is broken up into three distinct acts that will take the party from level 1-13.. if they survive.  Though much of the art and promotional material for this book plays up the Hell aspect, the first act in the adventure takes place in Baldur’s Gate.  Refugees are pouring into the city from a neighboring city and reports are unclear as to what has happened. It appears the entire city is gone and many fear Baldur’s Gate is next.  Which is a bold assumption if you ask me.  This first act highlights my favorite aspect of this adventure, which is, the different settings and styles of play.  The first act plays more like a political thriller as the party attempts to investigate and ascertain the fate of the fallen city.  Act two sees the party off to find the fallen city and begin their descent into Hell, which has a more dungeon crawl type feel.  It is not until act three that the party is fully enveloped in the plane of Avernus.  The book outlines Avernus more like a sandbox rather that a linear story.  There are several deals and allies the players can make and many branching paths to complete their objective.  This style gives the DM and party a lot of freedom to make the game their own, so it doesn’t feel like a pre-written adventure so much.  I personally like this approach, but it does mean there is a wealth of content that the DM may have to read that will never come up in game.  That being said, I would not view this as a waste, because these scenarios are packed with cool ideas for future games or side quests.  I will not spoil the ending, but I will say, there are several ways for the climax to play out, all providing meaning to the choices made during their time in Hell.  One thing the book hammers home with a morning star, is how bleak the plane of Avernus is.  So, as a DM you will have to keep this tone of a painful existence while also not letting it get overwhelming for players at the table.  It’s supposed to be FUN adventuring in Hell!  Especially in the third act, be mindful of your player’s mood and touch base often.  They may need a less-evil face every once-and-awhile to break up the hard tone the game presents.  That being said, the moral questions and possible story arcs of redemption makes this adventure worth exploring.


Magic and Monsters

 Descent into Avernus also includes a brief section on Magic Items and Monsters.  It is worth pointing out that most of these monsters were also included in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes but were re-printed here in case you do not have that supplement.  More importantly, this section covers some legendary items that the party will interact with.  The Shield of the Hidden Lord imprisons a powerful being that desires freedom.  Simply calling himself the Hidden Lord, this creature may help the party hoping to be set free in return.  The book outlines the creatures true nature and motivation which will be sure to inspire many DMs.  Another item that had me drooling all over my new book, is the Celestial sword of the now fallen angel, the current Archdevil of Avernus; Zariel.  This sword is incredibly powerful, infusing the wielder with almost angelic properties.  In this adventure the party will be going up against cosmic level foes, so providing the party with a weapon of this magnitude isn’t game breaking, but the sword can only be attuned to a hero that it deems worthy… and let’s be honest, your players probably made some questionable moral choices. These items play a critical role in the story, though, I can think of a few story ideas centered around these items alone. 


Final Thoughts

 Descent into Avernus is one of the best D&D 5th Edition adventures yet.  The strength of this book lies in its varied locations and play styles.  Honestly, if you are writing your own adventure, I would read this book just to see how to approach a story with a strong through line, and also keeps the sandbox feel that enhances player agency.  Throw in few supplemental sections like Deals with Devils, Magic Items, and the Baldur’s Gate layout, and you have a book that is packed with value for DMs and adventure writers.


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