Descent into Avernus lore: The Hellriders

Posted on September 22, 2019 by

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WOTC’s latest release for 5th edition D&D, Descent into Avernus, spins a tale that spans from the fabled city of Baldur’s Gate in Faerun, to Avernus, the first level of hell. In it, we learn the story of Zariel, ruler of Avernus, a fallen angel who sought to destroy the very thing she became, an archdevil in the service of Asmodeus.

In the backstory of the adventure, we learn that she once had an army of mortals from the city of Elturel known as The Hellriders accompany her to hell in an attempt to destroy the demons and devils waging the eternal Blood War. These Hellriders went into hell with her, but were defeated in their quest, and play a rather important part on the story of Zariel and Descent into Avernus. But who exactly are these Hellriders, and how much lore is there about them throughout the different editions of D&D? Let’s take a look…

The Hellriders make their first appearance in D&D in the 1st Edition Forgotten Realms boxed set, commonly known as the old grey box. Check out their entry…

1e boxed set

Since 1st Edition, their backstory has included a trip into Avernus. Safe to say that maybe this one line partly inspired this  hardcover adventure!

The hardcover book, Forgotten Realms Adventures, which transitioned the Realms from 1st Edition to 2nd Edition before a proper boxed set was created for 2nd Edition, didn’t include much on the Hellriders, simply describing them as “skilled horsemen armed with spears, composite bows, and long curved swords…” Nothing of riding into Avernus.

The 2nd Edition forgotten Realms boxed set would expand a bit on the Hellriders, adding a reason for their journey into hell––rescuing a companion.

2e boxed set

Wizard’s and Rogues of the Realms told us that children dream of becoming Hell Riders (notice how the spelling changed in 2e, by the way).

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 1.33.20 AM

Warriors and Priests of the Realms, provides a bit more information on the Hell Riders, although their link to actual hell is not mentioned at all.

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 1.38.36 AMScreen Shot 2019-09-23 at 1.38.41 AM

The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting hardcover book would not be too kind to the Hellriders. Their description left a lot to be desired, dwindled their numbers down to just 200, and erased any of their backstory. They simply became “a crack army” of “mounted warriors”.

3e

Then we get to the 4th edition Forgotten Realms, which really threw Elturel for a loop. First, it added a second sun to the city, known as The Companion (which if you’ve read Avernus, you know it plays a role in the adventure), and secondly, it completely erased the Hellriders from existence.

4e

It seems like the second sun was an editing mistake by Rich Baker, which made it to print. And the Hellriders being left out? Well, no answer on that, except maybe they tried to combine them with this unnamed knightly order of Paladins that keeps order? At some point the city also became a seeker of “righteous judgement” for all of Faerun.

4th Edition lore here was very strange…

And we finally arrive to 5e and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, where the Hellriders are back, and their foray into the Nine Hells is back at the forefront:

“They are the Hellriders, so named because long ago warriors of Elturel literally rode through a gate into the Nine Hells to pursue and destroy devils that had been plaguing their people.”

You’re going to have to read Descent into Avernus to see how it all ties into this adventure, but it’s interesting to see how one line in the 1st Edition Forgotten Realms grey box ~may~ have served as a kernel of inspiration for this adventure.

You can see how some of the lore changes over time, and there are some contradictions, but honestly, as a fan of the older works, it’s great to see the 5th Edition team reaching far back into the deepest cuts of D&D lore for material.


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If you’d like, also check out the following products:

Descent into Avernus

D&D: Tomb of Annihilation

D&D Tomb of Annihilation Dice

Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated

Tales from the Yawning Portal

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