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Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus is an adventure module for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, released on September 17, 2019. It also serves as a "pen-and-paper" Interquel of sorts between Baldur's Gate II and Baldur's Gate III, set roughly 100 years after the events of the former and shortly before the events of the latter.

The adventure begins in Baldur's Gate, where adventurers are being called upon to help defend the city, which is in the midst of a refugee crisis following the "disappearance" of the neighboring city of Elturel. But soon, they become embroiled in a dangerous quest that takes them to Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells of Baator and the main battleground of the Blood War between devils (led by the archdevil Zariel) and demons (led by various demon lords), along with some yugoloths, local warlords, and a certain evil dragon goddess caught in between. With the fates of Elturel and Baldur's Gate at stake, adventurers must navigate through the infernal landscape with the help of infernal war machines, and deal with the various denizens of Avernus who can either help them in their quest or prevent them from returning home...including those with tempting offers that the adventurers can bargain for.

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This adventure provides examples of:

  • Angelic Transformation: Anyone who is attuned to the Sword of Zariel and is deemed worthy of its power is transformed into an angelic version of themselves. This includes a change in alignment and personality, sprouting feathered wings, gaining True Sight, etc. However, the sword is also very strict in how it operates. Meaning while wielding it, its personality overrides the wielders to a degree, forcing a new set of personality traits onto them.
  • Artifact of Doom:
    • The infamous Hand of Vecna makes an appearance in this adventure, which is wielded by Arkhan the Cruel. He believes he can use its power to free Tiamat from her prison in Avernus, even as the artifact slowly corrupts his flesh into a state of decay. In order to stave off its detrimental effects, Arkhan resorts to using the Hand to snuff the life out of good-aligned creatures from wherever he or his servants can find them.
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    • The Shield of the Hidden Lord functions as this, as the devil Gargauth is imprisoned within it and can telepathically communicate with any creature that comes into contact with it, often to compel them into committing cruel and evil acts for him. Once safeguarded by the Hhune family, only to be stolen by the Vanthampur family as part of Duke Thalamra's Evil Plan, the adventurers can acquire the shield and even take it with them to Avernus if they choose to. From there, Gargauth can even assist the adventurers in their quest within Avernus as long as they can find a way to free him from the shield.
  • Ascended Demon:
    • A bearded devil named Krikendolt appears to be of chaotic good alignment, but this is mainly due to brain damage he had suffered in a previous battle in the Blood War. Unfortunately, this made him as a punching bag to his fellow bearded devils, who looked down on him for his newfound sense of compassion. The only way he can be restored to his original lawful evil alignment is through a heal spell or similar kind of magic.
    • In Chapter 5, the archdevil Zariel would become this only if the adventurers prove successful in redeeming her. With a newfound sense of hope for herself after being forgiven by the adventurers, she takes the Sword of Zariel and reverts back to her angelic form.
  • Big Bad: The archdevil Zariel serves as this for the entire adventure. With much of the story taking place in Avernus, the layer of the Nine Hells in which she has dominion over, chances are that the adventurers may cross paths with her in their quest to save Elturel. And if they do encounter her, the adventurers should be really careful lest they wish to invoke her infernal wrath. She is solely responsible for offering Thavius Kreeg the Companion through an infernal contract fifty years ago which allowed her to claim Elturel and its citizens, making use of said contract to gather more mortal souls for the Blood War. She also had Duke Thalamra Vanthampur carry out her own Evil Plan of becoming the next Grand Duke of Bladur's Gate so that Thalamra can offer the city to the archdevil the same way Thavius did with Elturel.
  • Call-Back: The book discusses the history of Baldur's Gate, evening mentioning the infamous Bhaalspawn incident from many years in the past.
  • Canon Immigrant: This adventure is the one that makes Critical Role canon to the Forgotten Realms setting with the introduction of Arkhan the Cruel (based on Joe Manganiello's Player Character of the same name), where his character profile briefly mentions of his exploits in Exandria. In particular, of how he acquired the Hand of Vecna.
  • Central Theme: What it means to be evil. Several characters are presented as evil when you first meet them, but eventually are expanded upon and their motives and past are discussed in regards to why they ended up the way they did. Zariel in particular gets her motives and reasons explored.
  • Conscription: The story begins with the adventurers being drafted into the Flaming Fist, coercing them into helping the mercenary company defend Baldur's Gate as they handle the refugee crisis. According to Captain Zodge, the Flaming Fist is empowered to draft adventurers in times of emergency, and he can execute them on the spot for refusing to help, though he would rather insist that they accept.
  • Deal with the Devil:
    • As befitting of the setting of the adventure, adventurers would have the option to forge infernal pacts with the devils within Avernus, from the rank-and-file imps up to the cunning and all-powerful archdevils.
    • This is actually what caused Elturel's disappearance into the Nine Hells in the first place. Fifty years prior to the events of the adventure, Elturel's High Overseer Thavius Kreeg struck a deal with the archdevil Zariel to provide him the Solar Insidiator (better known as The Companion) to rid the city of the undead threat. In reality, Zariel was making use of this deal to bring Elturel and its citizens under her control and turn them into Cannon Fodder for the Blood War.
    • One of the ways Elturel can be saved is by making one with Zariel. If the players wish to, they can offer to join the Blood War as devils in exchange for saving the city, or they can offer themselves (if heroic enough) as a sacrifice to her in order to free the city.
  • Deuteragonist: Lulu, the hollyphant. She's a celestial who lost her memories for before arriving in Faerûn, but feels compelled to help the adventurers when they head to Avernus, and becomes unquestionably the most important ally in the story. She is actually a close friend of Zariel, and was entrusted by the former angel to assist in keeping the Sword of Zariel from falling into the wrong hands. She then lost her memories and her spellcasting ability as a result of Mahadi splashing her with water from the River Styx and selling her out to devils. But not before the now-archdevil Zariel decided to spare her former friend and sent her to Faerûn with her mental faculties restored.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Duke Thalamra Vanthampur. She's the main antagonist of the Baldur's Gate section of the story, and is a major foe to face before the players even learn about the situation going on with Elturel. Once she is defeated, the player is able to begin the process of heading to Avernus.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: The adventure features an entire city that was...well, dragged off to Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. It is later revealed to be part of a deal between Thavius Kreeg and Zariel, as mentioned above, and Zariel wanted Elturel so that she can gather more mortal souls for the Blood War. Depending on the adventurers' actions during the adventure, Elturel may end up returning to the Material Plane or be trapped in Avernus forever.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Vanthampurs are a credible threat at the start, but despite their power, they simply cannot at all work together, which is what allows the party to stop them. Duke Thalmara is ruthless and cunning, but she does not care for her sons with regards to her own plans, and all three of her sons are either willing to backstab each other, or don't care to work together towards their common goal. Mortlock, for example, will just flat out give away his family's role in the crisis just because they won't get along (as well as his brothers conspiring with the cultists to betray him), while Thurstwell only bothers to spy on people who would get in the way of his mother's plans, but doesn't care at all for his siblings to bother helping. Capitalizing on this dysfunction is why they are ultimately defeated by the adventurers.
  • Early Game Hell: Downplayed compared to other adventures, but the very first combat encounter is designed around using roleplay to get allies to help fight off a group of bandits inside a tavern. The issue is that the leader of the bandits is a bandit captain, an enemy close to 70 hit points, which is more than an average party will have until they get around level 10, and whose default attacks have a large chance of hitting, plus he can attack twice. If the players don't secure allies in the tavern, its very likely a Total Party Kill will follow. Thankfully, the encounters after this are more balanced and fair to the players, since the book encourages leveling them up after the first battle.
  • Easy Amnesia: In-Universe. This is the reason the River Styx is so difficult to approach. Even being only slightly splashed by it can cause people to lose their memories, and falling into it means risking being affected by effects similar to the feeblemind spell, at which point if not removed from the river within thirty days, the user loses their memories forever.
  • Eldritch Location: Avernus is a place mortals were never really meant to go to, and it shows. Being in Avernus means running the risk of becoming corrupted into evil or going mad, there is demonic ichor that can horribly mutate anyone who makes contact with it, and being within the plane itself weakens one over time. There are only very few locations in Avernus that offer respite, and everywhere else are extremely dangerous due to the demons and/or devils being present.
  • Evil Matriarch: Thalamra Vanthampur, matriarch of the noble Vanthampur family and one of the ruling dukes of Baldur's Gate, is secretly plotting to take over the city as its new Grand Duke and offer it to the archdevil Zariel, with whom she is very loyal to. Even her own sons (except Mortlock, whom she and her other sons despise) are also helping her with her goals by acquiring the Shield of the Hidden Lord from the Hhune family and assisting the Cult of the Dead Three in carrying out murder sprees across Baldur's Gate to hinder the Flaming Fist's influence over the city.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: Redeeming or killing Zariel will surely result in this as many other fiends will end up contesting for control over all of Avernus, causing widespread chaos across the plane. Knowing this, the adventurers may then choose to either leave its denizens to their own devices, support a powerful figure in taking Zariel's place, or rule Avernus on their own terms.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Being the location of the Forever War that is the Blood War, players will often find devils and demons fighting each other.
  • Fallen Angel: Zariel, the archduke of Avernus. The adventure also allows the player characters to learn the story behind her descent into devilhood. Though later in the adventure, and only if the adventurers are persuasive enough to redeem her, Zariel relinquishes her position as an archdevil and returns to her former, angelic self.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Asmodeus, lord of the Nine Hells and ruler of devilkind, obviously falls under this trope given the setting of the adventure. It states that he was the one who offered Zariel a place in the Nine Hells as the archduke of Avernus, a position then taken by the archdevil Bel, so that she can pursue her vendetta against the demons and became his champion in the Blood War. He also has Mahadi under his thrall as well, with the rakshasa acting as The Mole to privy into all sorts of dealings and information that might otherwise escape his attention. And by the adventure's end, he may even offer one of the adventurers the opportunity to rule Avernus as an archdevil should Zariel be redeemed or defeated.
  • Guest-Star Party Member: Reya Mantlemorn, a Hellrider of Elturel who was away when the city vanished and is seeking to find out why. She joins the adventurers during the events in Baldur's Gate, and if the party is mostly good-aligned, remains with them from relatively early in the story, all the way until the players decide to leave Elturel to explore Avernus, at which point she stays behind to help defend the city. With the stat block of a veteran, she'll be very useful in surviving up until that point.
  • Hate Sink: Thavius Kreeg. In desperation to save Elturel from its vampiric ruler, he made a deal with Zariel to save it. But from that moment, he used that deal to claim he saved the city, allowing him to gain massive political power. Knowing that Elturel would eventually fall into Avernus, however, he left it to its fate when that time comes and fled to Baldur's Gate, and attempted to do the same thing to the city just so he could survive. If he dies before the players head to Avernus, he ends up in Avernus as a devil because of his pact, but when encountered, he's crying because he didn't think Zariel would have him suffer anything bad. He's a selfish man who cares not for the many innocent people who died for his own ambition.
  • Heel Realization: If the adventurers prove to be convincing enough to sway Zariel back into good, the archdevil then comes to a realization that she may have gone too far with her drive to thwart the demonic threat before reclaiming her sword and reverting back to her angelic form. Bonus points if the adventurers brought Lulu and/or Olanthius with them, as their presence makes Zariel feel remorseful that her actions almost costed her friendship with Lulu, and/or left Olanthius to suffer a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Hell Has New Management: If Zariel would be redeemed or defeated in the course of the adventure, another powerful character can fight to take her place and claim Avernus for themselves. Either one of the demon lords (Baphomet, Yeenoghu or Kostchtchie) would rule Avernus and shift the balance of the Blood War in their favor, Bel reclaiming his title as archduke, Gargauth becoming the new ruler of Avernus after being freed from the Shield of the Hidden Lord (and most likely betraying the adventurers in the process), Arkhan the Cruel taking over Avernus Tiamat's stead, or one of the adventurers themselves would become very willing to rule Avernus on their own terms.
  • Heroic BSoD: Throughout the course of the adventure, the hollyphant Lulu firmly believes that there's is still a spark of hope to save her friend Zariel, and she actively encourages the adventurers to use the Sword of Zariel to try to sway the archdevil back into goodness. Should they fail to redeem her, however, such an tragic outcome would drive Lulu insane, causing her to suffer the effects of a long-term madness.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: A variation. Whoever attunes to the Sword of Zariel transforms to an idealized form of themself, and a good-aligned warrior. However, this is permanent and no spells can undo it, and even if the sword is returned to Zariel and she is redeemed, the previous wielder is forever changed. As a result, taking up the sword means essentially sacrificing your old identity forever.
  • Klingon Promotion: If Zariel would be redeemed or killed in the adventure, a power-hungry and ambitious character might consider using this opportunity to take over Avernus for themselves. In which case, Asmodeus is offering to transform the character into an archdevil and effectively become the new ruler of Avernus.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The adventure presents devils as this. Devils are Lawful Evil creatures, and while they do commit evil deeds, they have a hierarchy and do act within the rules. Demons, being Chaotic Evil, destroy and ruin anything and everyone they meet. Due to this, the book details how, ultimately, devils are less of a threat at times than the demons since you can haggle with a devil. Try to haggle with a demon, and you'll likely get killed instead.
  • Multiple Endings: The book offers a few different ways to resolve the fates of Zariel and Elturel, and there are several options for how to handle both. Primarily they boil to:
    • Zariel: Redeem her by returning the Sword of Zariel to her and convincing her to return to the angelic host, fight and defeat her, surrender to her and become devils to fight in the Blood War, make a deal with her, or if you have a good-aligned Cleric of Paladin, make a Take Me Instead deal.
    • Elturel: Convince Zariel to save it (either by redeeming her or making a deal with her), free the planetar trapped in the Companion to bring the city back to the Material Plane, receive aid from other forces to free it, or have it remain in Avernus.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The Sword of Zariel, while it is meant to be wielded only by its namesake Fallen Angel, can also allow itself to be attuned to by anyone the artifact deems as "someone who embodies bravery and heroism".
  • Point of No Return: In-Universe example. The players will eventually find a way to enter Avernus, but regardless of methods, the ally helping them to so is often instructed by the DM to very clearly spell out this trope. If the players want to prepare and get ready, now is the last chance they will get before they go to Avernus.
  • Practical Currency: The soul coins function as this, often being used as fuel for the infernal war machines. Those with soul coins can also expend one of three charges from the soul coin to either gain temporary hit points or telepathically communicate with the trapped soul.
  • See You in Hell: Duke Thalamra Vanthampur says this verbatim as she is killed by the adventurers.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Jander Sunstar, a random High Elf warrior that players find within Avernus stuck on a pike to suffer for some past event. Turns out he was one of the primary reasons for Zariel's descent, as he and many other Hellriders fled back to the Material Plane after entering Avernus due to being overwhelmed by the horrors of the Blood War. And in doing so, he sealed the portal closed and left Zariel and her remaining troops in Avernus to die, essentially acting as the face for what caused Zariel's fall. Despite this, he's a very minor character in the overall story.
  • Story Branch Favoritism: While the adventure has several different endings with ways to achieve them, its clear that redeeming Zariel is the one most intended. It's the only one with a clearly written epilogue, is the easiest of all of the possible endings to get since you have ways of lowering the requirements to achieve it, and it's the ending where Elturel is saved, people and all, without having to sacrifice people or make a deal with Zariel. All the other options for this adventure are less fleshed out by contrast.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: One of the ways Elturel can be saved is with Tiamat, whom the adventurers can make contact with through her champion Arkhan the Cruel. In this case, she is more than willing to help them free the city by breaking the chains binding it as well as destroying the Companion as long as they can handle Zariel and/or support Arkhan into ruling Avernus in Tiamat's stead. Should the adventurers confront Zariel as Tiamat helps them free Elturel, the archdevil will focus on attacking the adventurers with the hopes that the Dragon Queen will cease her efforts upon the deaths of her accomplices.
  • The Starscream: The archdevil Bel is essentially this to Zariel ever since after Asmodeus' decision to replace him with Zariel as archduke of Avernus. And while he rankles at Zariel's rulership of the layer of the Nine Hells that was once his, he doesn't attempt to challenge her directly as long as he thinks Asmodeus supports Zariel. Should the adventurers make themselves known to Bel of their quest to save Elturel, he makes good use of this opportunity to turn them into Unwitting Pawns in his plan to overthrow Zariel and reclaim his rule over Avernus.
  • Truce Zone: Mahadi's Wandering Emporium essentially serves as this within Avernus, and is one of the few places in the plane that the adventurers can seek refuge from the dangers of the infernal wasteland as well as conduct business with its merchants. Besides them, anyone is welcome to visit the emporium at anytime as long as they follow the following rules: "No fighting! No spellcasting! No exceptions!"
  • Weaponized Car: The infernal war machines are presented as these throughout the adventure, being utilized by the denizens of the Nine Hells both as weapons and as means of transportation across the hellish landscape. And to better fit with the post-apocalyptic aesthetic of the plane, infernal war machines can be upgraded with various weapon stations, armor, and gadgets to suit the operator's tastes.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The more powerful devils don't get along at all with each other, which contributes to why Avernus is in such a chaotic state (besides the Blood War). They plot to betray one another, with the archdevil Zariel being the one most are looking towards as their target. And throughout the adventure, adventurers can find many devils who, despite being their enemy, are willing to sabotage Zariel or other devils, just to obtain either power or revenge.
  • Weird Currency: The adventure introduces soul coins, which are essentially coins with mortal souls trapped within them. They are highly valued by devils and are used throughout the Nine Hells for various goods and services, forging infernal deals and bribing other fiends.

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 evil's butt. Let darkness fall and light prevail! We strongly advise that you do not play this adventure backwards, lest Asmodeus appear in a puff of smoke to talk politics, as archfiends are wont to do.

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