Support my video work via Patreon.
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus is the first fully original level 1-10+ campaign release since 2017’s Tomb of Annihilation. It maintains the odd city-colon-adventure naming scheme from last year’s Waterdeep duology, though the city of Baldur’s Gate is featured only in the first of five parts, representing a fast-track to get the players leveled up and battling demons and devils in the first layer of hell as quickly as possible.
Avernus is an awesome setting and the adventure has one of the best endings of any of the official hard cover fifth edition adventures, tied to the fate of a central NPC, but Wizards’ insistent and repeated usage of Dyson Logos maps continues to translate poorly to a virtual tabletop such as Roll20.
MAJOR SPOILERS – DM’s only!
The following content is included in the $49.95 Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus Roll20 bundle:
- Level 1-13 campaign, divided into five parts
- 18 5-ft battle maps with tokens and dynamic lighting (Plus/Pro sub required)
- 9 non-gridded city and overland maps
- 1 blank random battle map
- 1 5-ft ship map from the Dungeon Master’s Guide
- Alphabetized token page
- Alternate landing page featuring alternate cover art
- Over 170 monster stat sheets with matching tokens and handouts
- 36 Unique Named NPC character sheets with tokens and handouts
- Appendices for Infernal war machines, making deals with devils, concept art, and Infernal Script
- 48 Magic Item handouts (21 with pictures).
- 15 unique character backgrounds tied to Baldur’s Gate.
- Over 50 rollable macro tables for random encounters, madness, etc.
- Baldur’s Gate Gazetteer includes all the history, lore, and information
- Supplemental rules from the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes Wizards of the Coast used Dyson Logos once again for the map designs. Yes I still hate that plain art style, especially when viewed on a VTT like Roll20, and count it as a major Con in my review.
The map art is less a factor here than in Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, however, as this adventure has far fewer dungeon crawls and not nearly as much reliance on battle maps.
On the flip side the non-gridded overland or regional maps are great, including two maps that are stunningly amazing: Elturel, the city on fire that’s being forcibly dragged into Avernus, and the map of Avernus itself, which is more abstract and far removed from the strict hex-crawl of Chult in Tomb of Annihilation.
Part 1, which takes place almost entirely within the titular city of Baldur’s Gate, is the weakest section of the adventure. I’m not sure why Wizards of the Coast can’t conceive of a strong starting hook in most of their adventures. The neighboring city of Elturel has seemingly vanished, leaving Baldur’s Gate to deal with the refugee crisis.
The PCs are local conscripts who gradually learn about the fate of Elturel and its demonic pact. Would’ve been a far more interesting hook to have the PCs tied to Elturel instead of Baldur’s Gate – maybe even witnessing its disappearance? Or better yet, why not just drag Baldur’s Gate down to hell at the end of part 1?
The romp around the city beating up cultists and would-be city rulers is mostly designed to get the players out of the lower levels as quickly as possible, ascending to level 5 before being plane shifted to Elturel, currently floating above the first layer of hell known as Avernus.
Part 2 is simply amazing, with PCs fighting demons and rescuing people in this apocalyptic floating city. I’m getting strong vibes of Avengers: Age of Ultron!
Part 3 is the meat of the adventure, where the PCs learn the Sword of fallen angel Zariel can help save the city, and must travel across the demon and devil-filled region to obtain it. Instead of strict travel rules the DM is encouraged to use roaming war bands of Mad Max-like convoys. Infernal War Machines powered by souls are metal as hell, and I love everything about them, including their starship-like rules for every PC to contribute.
Part 3 also features an interestingly split path that PCs can choose. It’s a great compromise to the jarring “seasonal” element of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, where PCs (or more likely, the DM) chose the overarching villains and plot of the adventure from four widely different choices. Here PCs can choose to either consort with demons or devils on their quest to find the sword, and that determines a number of locations they visit and NPCs they interact with for the latter half of their travels.
None of these sections feature much dungeon-crawling. Many battle maps are quite small, with some representing a single room or area like a tower or forge. In many ways, Descent Into Avernus is the antithesis of Dungeon of the Mad Mage: heavy on story, light on dungeon crawling. Prepare to scramble and find a lot of battle maps on your own, including the entire climax, which returns the PCs (and any number of high-powered NPCs, including Zariel and Tiamat!) to Elturel.
To aid with the story-telling and fantastical location, the Journal includes a large amount of appendices that feature useful background information, like how to roleplay demons and devils, Zariel’s fall from grace, and using Infernal War Machines as encounters and player vehicles. There’s also the Baldur’s Gate Gazetteer, which offers all the information you could ever want on the city, despite the city playing a relatively small part in the overarching adventure.
The Roll20 amenities are fewer here than past modules. There’s no delete-able hex grid map, no interactive council chart. Tokens, battle maps, dynamic lighting, draggable character sheets, and macros have all become standard features in officially licensed modules.
With the continual use of the Logos map style it’s becoming increasingly harder to recommend the official Roll20 modules. On the one hand, Desecent Into Avernus is as far from a series of dungeon crawls as you can get. But on the other hand, these modules are primarily purchased for ready-to-go maps. If the maps work for you, or you find worthy replacements, Descent Into Avernus should offer one of the best story-telling campaigns we’ve seen yet in fifth edition.
- Avernus is awesome, with a malleable map, infernal war machines, and a treasure trove of interesting locations and wacky NPCs.
- Detailed background and lore information on Avernus, the Blood war, roleplaying demons and devils, and the fall of Zariel.
- Engaging story with meaningful choices and consequences, and a satisfying, multi-part conclusion.
- Infernal war machines!
- Dyson Logos maps.
- Baldur’s Gate is only in the first part, and mostly designed to get the PCs out of low levels.
The Verdict: What Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus lacks in dungeon crawls (and full color maps), it makes up for with an engaging story, memorable NPCs, and fantastical setting.
Support my video work via Patreon.