Thoughts on running the beginning of Descent into Avernus

Posted on October 11, 2019 by

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I’m a few sessions into Wizards of the Coast’s latest D&D hardcover, Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus for my home group, and I thought I’d put out some thoughts about my experiences running the beginning of the adventure. For those of you into this sort of thing, here’s my party’s makeup:

  • Human Fighter
  • Kobold Ranger (more on him later)
  • Elf Druid
  • Half Elf Warlock
  • Dwarf Rogue

Oh, this will have spoilers, ok? Ok.

Descent into Avernus starts with a bit of an en media res, without the characters having an opportunity to really make any meaningful choices.  From the first piece of boxed text they learn that they have been drafted into the Flaming fist mercenary group without having a choice in the matter, and are threatened with death if they choose to not follow orders. So there’s that.

Welcome to the Fist. Bang. 

The character’s mission, given to them by a pretty dislikable NPC, is to seek out cultists and destroy them. The adventure basically leads the players to where they need to go, so there’s no need to investigate or explore the city–at all. They are told the name of the person who can help lead them to the cult and where they can be found. If as a DM you want to get creative and have the PCs explore Baldur’s Gate a little bit, here’s a good place to do it. Maybe they ~don’t~ get the info and have to actually do some detective work. Put that Baldur’s Gate gazetteer included with the book to work, because otherwise there isn’t much room in this story to get to know Baldur’s Gate too well. It’s a quick pass through the streets of the city with the adventure as written–most of the time is spent in dungeons or fighting in taverns.

And speaking of tavern, the characters are led on a leash by their NPC quest giver to the Elfsong Tavern, where they are to meet with someone there (who apparently must hang out there 24 hours a day, because what a surprise, here they are!). And wouldn’t you know it? A fight breaks out! A group of pirates rushes in to attack this NPC, just as the PCs are talking with them. Oh-oh! A filler fight! And a pretty hard one at that!

Honestly? I skipped this part of the adventure. I have no time for unnecessary fights, and this one feels unnecessary. Pure filler with little, if any apparent payoff.

On top of that, and let’s get into spoilery territory here… the one possible cool material reward annoys me… or rather, the teasing with the reward….

So the dead pirates have a ship docked in the city… Theoretically, if the PCs killed the pirates, they can go get themselves a pirate ship. Cool!  But…

  • It is guarded by 11 bandits.  A deadly encounter for 5 1st level PCs. Well, it’s actually deadly by the time the 8th bandit is counted. So 11 is a massacre.
  • It requires a crew of twenty to sail, and half or more of the crew must have proficiency with water vehicles.
  • The ship is worth 10,000 gp intact, no one in Baldur’s Gate wants to buy it because of its infamous reputation.

More trouble than it’s worth, right? So why even mention it? Feels like a huge brick wall of NOPE surrounds the ship. I guess maybe it’s there for after the adventure, upon their return to Baldur’s gate as 13th level PCs? The bandits would have likely taken the ship elsewhere by then…

Anyway… The PCs learn from their contact in the tavern that cultists are seen coming and going from a specific location. So again, no more investigation or exploration of Baldur’s Gate, point B is right down the street. Go!

At that location, things get interesting. The dungeon under the bathhouse has one way in or out, through a door in a massage room. Okay. Interesting. My players went during the day, which made the whole thing bizarre to say the least.

And why would this dungeon have just ONE entrance? These cultists are ALL exiting via a massage room in a bathhouse in a middle class neighborhood?

So there are some encounters down there that can be brutal. There’s an enemy with a fireball spell waiting to drop it on your 2nd level PCs that can end the adventure rather quickly.

Anyway, we had fun in the dungeon. The conga line of adventurers walking (and exiting) through a secret door in a massage room in the middle of the day was pretty funny.  At least they waited until what they thought was midnight to exit the dungeon.

With chests of stolen treasure.

An entire day down there, 6AM to Midnight.

What a day.

But seriously, the Dead Three Cult dungeon can be difficult and potentially TPKish.

Plan ahead. Make sure the players are well equipped, you may want to give out a potion or two of healing somewhere along the way. They can secure it in the city, or maybe the contact at the tavern provides…

Anyway, I played it as written. The kobold, who is seen as a monster by every single cultist and therefore is an immediate target, went down like 3 or 4 times from the moment we started the adventure to the exiting of the dungeon.

He’s a monster. In a major city. People don’t like monsters, and this includes cultists.

These are some quick random thoughts as I play through this. If you have any questions hit me up on twitter….


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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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