When the original Baldur’s Gate video game came out in 1998, I was more concerned with thwarting Bowser on my N64 than I was with computer games. But we are all about to become experts on the city of Baldur’s Gate thanks to the newest D&D adventure by Wizards of the Coast–Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus.
For those of you who have been around the block once or twice, you’re probably very familiar with the setting. The rest of you are in for a real treat; this adventure is stuffed to the brim with diabolical baddies, interesting encounters, and drive-able war machines. If that last one didn’t make you sit up a little straighter, then I don’t know what are looking for in a RPG!
I don’t want to spoil any of the major plot points of the adventure, but I still want to give this review some substance. What I’ve decided to do is follow the ‘Rule of Cool’ and provide a brief summary, followed by highlights of my favorite parts of the book.
A Review of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus clocks in at 256 pages, putting it right in line with published adventures like Storm King’s Thunder and Out of the Abyss. Players starting the campaign at level 1 will find themselves around level 13 at the end of the published content, which is a perfect jumping-off point for diving deeper into the Nine Hells.
Adding in past editions of D&D, we’ve visited this Forgotten Realms setting a lot, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. Descent Into Avernus has flair, with its demons and plane-hopping antics.
Descent into Avernus: Content Overview
The main adventure takes place over the first 155 pages, after which we head into the Gazetteer and Appendices. If you love homebrewing your own campaign, this is where the real bread and butter lies. Here’s what you’ll find:
- The City of Baldur’s Gate gets top billing with nearly 60 pages of history, government, economy, places of interest, maps, and images. You also get new features for character Backgrounds and rules for your party’s Dark Secret, which is a devilish little bit of character-building that ties your party together.
- Diabolical Deals gives a bunch of rules around devils making deals with the party. What, you think devils just toss around deals willy nilly? Preposterous! There’s a proper and accepted sequence of events that must transpire before an accord is struck! Manners are alive and well in Avernus.
- Infernal War Machines will change your campaign forever. Complete with inspirational illustrations, this section lists out the rules for creating, riding, and destroying magical vehicles. We’re talking Mad Max meets the Daedric Princes here. Furthermore, there are four sample vehicles just waiting for you to turn the ignition and put the pedal to the metal.
- Magic Items are abundant, but this shorter section lists items found within the adventure. Weapons, armor, wondrous items–all the bases are covered. There’s a particular item I REALLY want to talk about, but I don’t want to risk spoiling any part of the adventure. The art for it, like the rest of the book, is just too good.
- Creatures, of the likes you’ve never seen, occupy the next 15 pages. Since we’re in the land of demons, fiends, and devils now, you can imagine the strange horrors depicted in this section. Psst–if someone can find me a pet hollyphant, I’ll be forever in your debt.
- Appendix E has a pair of handouts, so I’m not speaking to those.
- Story Concept Art graces the final pages, showing you the creative process that went into some of the creatures, items, and locations of the adventure. I could honestly take another fifty pages of this stuff; it’s so interesting how everything comes together. Really great images here.
- Infernal Script! You can finally try your hand at writing your devilish pacts in the native language. Dungeonmasters will find this particularly useful when putting together custom handouts, notes, journals, etc.
- Oh, and don’t forget about the amazing double-sided map at the back. If you decide to frame it (which you SHOULD), put it in one of those glass frames so that you can occasionally turn it around to the other side.
Descent into Avernus: Adventure Highlights
Again, I’m not going to divulge secrets of the adventure, but I want to touch on a few parts of the story and layout of the book that really shine. Wizards has been doing this for a long time and they’ve figured out a thing or two when it comes to presentation.
First of all, the book opens up with a Pronunciation Guide. I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t grow up with some of these names: Crokek’toeck, Kostchtchie, Yeenoghu. What’s even better is that there’s a description of who they are. Super helpful!
Another layout piece that’s really well-done is the chapter overview. Like most adventures, the beginning of each chapter provides a brief summary of the story and how the players will likely progress.
What I really appreciate, however, are the Flowcharts! These are quick visual cues that list a sentence or two about each section AND include a guideline of what level characters should be around those parts. For those groups that divvy experience through milestones, this is an invaluable guide. I wish that the level range was a bit higher, since extraplanar beings are typically higher level, and that would enhance the epic-feel of the campaign.
As far as the adventure itself, the flow and the pacing is excellent. This is a legendary adventure that will make you feel like the hero you’ve always wanted to be. Characters will be faced with some tough, meaningful choices, and their actions will have consequences. I love that.
Your group is going to play through this much differently than others, and that’s one of the signs of a great adventure. The final chapter is a high-stakes gamble–it’s really well done.
The color scheme fits the adventure theme very well; it’s relatively minimalist with subtle color changes and deep crimson accents in the lettering. The color transition between the ‘spoken’ sections and the descriptions isn’t the easiest to make out, but there are some read bars on the vertical sides to help provide distinction.
There are some fantastic characters in here. They’re creative, have depth, and give the Gamemaster enough detail to portray them in a variety of ways. That’s another thing that Wizards has excelled at–important characters almost always get their own header and background section.
In no particular order, my favorite characters showcased are Lulu, Smiler, and Feonor. But I’m not going to tell you why; you’ll have to play the adventure to find out!
Descent into Avernus: Art & Maps
What’s an adventure without maps? Wizards of the Coast has moved to a more simplistic ‘dungeon’ map style thanks to the incredible work of Dyson Logos Cartography. I’ve always been a fan of this style, but I know that people have different opinions when it comes to full-color dungeon maps.
What I prefer with this style is that it translates really well to the table–it’s easy to recreate because only the essential information is shown on the map. Not all of the maps are grayscale however. There’s a fair share of location maps and landmarks that are full-color, including a detailed map of Baldur’s Gate.
As usual, the rest of the art in the book is gorgeous. There are several full-size spreads of action sequences that pair nicely with an adventure that feel EPIC. For the set-pieces of the campaign that aren’t as easily visualized, there are evocative pieces to accompany the descriptions.
There’s a specific area in the adventure that showcases some historical events through the use of stained-glass windows. It’s easily my favorite art in the book; there’s something about the vividness of the images that can portray so much emotion and subtle detail.
Descent into Avernus: Diabolically Delicious
I’m going to put it simply–this is a fun adventure. Between the new mechanics, the evocative setting, and the meaningful choices for the players, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. Even if you’re not necessarily into the whole demons and devils thing, the extensive setting information for the city is solid enough for its own dedicated book.
This book is going to fly off the shelves like a bat outta the Nine Hells, so if your group is looking for the next D&D adventure to play through, this one gets my vote. Just don’t blame me when the party diverts all their attention to powerful war machines and sets up a Dusthawk Hill Speedway.
You know they want to.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus releases on September 17th, at which point you may have the choice between a standard cover and an alternative cover with art by Hydro74. Both books have the same content, but the alternative cover has that WOW factor. Pick up your copy at your FLGS, or get it on Amazon here.
[Disclosure: Wizards of the Coast provided Nerds on Earth with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.]