Review: Wizards of the Coast – Descent into Avernus (Dungeons & Dragons)

Descent into Avernus
Descent into Avernus is an epic fantasy adventure supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, written by Bill Benham, M.T. Black, Dan Dillon, Justin Donie, James J. Haeck, James Introcaso, Adam Lee, Chris Lindsay, Liane Mersiel, Shawn Merwin, Lysa Penrose, Christopher Perkins, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber Scott, and James Sutter and published by Wizards of the Coast.
By Dave Pierson

The Homebrew DM’s Perception

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Disclaimer: This adventure is a work of fiction aimed at providing you and your friends with many hours of fantastic entertainment. Although devils and the Nine Hells play prominent roles in this story, the evil they represent is meant to be fought and overcome. Wizards of the Coast fully endorses the kicking of evils’ butt. Let darkness fall and light prevail! We strongly advise that you not play this adventure backward, lest Asmodeus appear in a puff of smoke to talk politics, as archfiends are wont to do.

Wizards of the Coast, Baldur’s Gate Descent into Avernus, 2019

The heroes at Wizards of the Coast are back again with their newest adventure Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. The 256-page campaign will take you and your players from level 1 to 13, starting in the famous town of Baldur’s Gate and ending in Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. Like adventure books before it, this adventure is broken into 5 chapters, each with their own suggested character-level guidelines. In addition, each chapter provides the DM with detailed background information for running an engaging campaign. The big difference for me from the previous adventure books is the length. Yes, the Waterdeep adventures could take you to level 20, but that was 2 adventure books, and you didn’t’ necessarily need to run them back to back. Here, you get one adventure, one continuous story, and ultimately, saving Baldur’s Gate from the Nine Hells.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this adventure continues the tradition of creating new canon from the world of celebrity streaming of Dungeons and Dragons. The last adventure, the Acquisitions Incorporated “handbook”, was created by a band of adventures who were DM’d by the illustrious Christopher Perkins – senior story designer for Dungeons and Dragons. In Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, one of the new central NPC’s presented is Arkhan the Cruel, an evil dragonborn paladin/barbarian of Tiamat, who originated in actor Joe Manganiello’s own home game and brought into popularity through streaming on Force Grey and Critical Role. Non-spoiler, Arkhan and his adventuring friends (from the home game) do play a role in the adventure and take place in canon following his adventures in Force Grey and Critical Role.

The story of the campaign itself is very well developed. Once again, the D&D story team did a great job of pulling in outside story creators and consultants to assist. There is plenty of room for the players to make choices without feeling railroaded into one direction and still accomplish the overall arch of the adventure. The box text is well done and provides a lot of interesting information, but also can be easily paraphrased for those groups who dislike box text. The art is on point and amazing. They’ve included a few Story Concept Art pages that really show off the development of the book.

The adventure book itself includes a vast inventory of resources laid out to assist the DM with running the story. There are pronunciation guides, a gazetteer providing history, and a layout of Baldur’s Gate – maps upon maps that can be pulled out and shared. Some of my favorite sections are the Infernal Rapture Menus for the players, actual Infernal Script that is now canon and the Infernal War Machines. Do yourself a favor and look these up. The concept behind these are unique and present a very interesting choice for your players.

Ultimately for those of us that use homebrew settings, the addition of a campaign book that provides a story outside the material plane is a welcome addition in my opinion. Do I have a city that is like Baldur’s gate? Yeah, sure – but I don’t need to start my PC’s there. If by some chance they find themselves in the first layer of the Nine Hells, I now have a resource that can provide me not only with background, but also a rather large story hook. In addition, my group loves to roll dice. I’ve used the “This Is Your Life” section of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything to help flesh out a character’s general background with dice rolls. One of the newest sections in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus incorporates a shared secret among your players during character creation. Maybe they were involved in a murder, a conspiracy, or maybe even a failed coup? Additional dice rolls can help generate the details of that deep, dark secret and could easily play a role into how they find themselves in the Nine Hells.

Overall, the adventure is exciting and the book is well done. There are many aspects from the book I can incorporate if, and when, my players find themselves in Hell. I love the art and I love that some of my favorite live-streaming player characters are now making their way into D&D canon (hey Wizards – I’ve got a dragonborn sorcerer archaeologist I would love to introduce to you). With that, I am really looking forward to what’s next. It’s time to return to the material plane, but somewhere outside Forgotten Realms. The next big release is Eberron, a setting I really enjoy with its dragonmarks and magic infusion. In addition, the development team continues to test out new class options through their Unearthed Arcana (Twilight Domain for Clerics? Yes please!) that we could see in future releases. The future of D&D is bright and continues to increase in mainstream popularity.

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