Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, by Wizards Of The Coast
It may not be a popular observation to make, but the D&D mission books do have an educational mission that is not always sufficiently recognized either by those who are fond of the game or those who are hostile to it. The authors of this mission portray the politics of the world of Baldur’s Gate, in which this particular mission is set, as being involved with various demonic pacts and dark spiritual matters. An understanding of the demonic aspect of a great deal of government behavior certainly does put our own contemporary political crises in a dark but accurate context, and certainly would lead us not to think too highly of our own swamp monsters just as this particular mission involves a group of heroes who uncover a very dark conspiracy which has immense consequences for the suffering people of a neighboring city who are finding their city gradually being dragged down into the first of the nine layers of hell. If there is a better reflection on the dark mood of our own contemporary age concerning the troubles that are facing us due to political and moral darkness, it would be hard to think of a more accurate reflection of the seriousness of our own times.
This book is bout 250 pages long. It begins with a pronunciation guide as well as an introductory section about the adventure and some advice to the GM/reader about how to roleplay devils. The first chapter of the book discusses the fall of Elturel and the evil that has sprung up as a result in Baldur’s Gate (1), along with the way that running this chapter should level up a party of characters sufficiently to be able to take on the challenges that await below. After that the author discusses the arrival in Elturel, which finds itself being chained and slowly dragged down to Avernus and being attacked by both demons and devils (2). After that the author provides a lengthy chapter where the party is supposed to travel through Avernus in search of a way for Elturel to be freed from its burdens in such a way that does not cost the party its life or its eternal destiny (3). A short chapter then discusses the way that the Sword of Zariel can be used to help redeem the fallen angel in charge of Avernus (4) and then provides various ways that the party can successfully escape from the first layer of hell and return to their homes (5). After that the author provides a gazetteer of information about Baldur’s Gate that could have easily gone at the beginning as part of the context for the adventure as well as appendices including diabolical deals (i), infernal war machines powered by souls (ii), magic items (iii), creatures (iv), infernal rapture menus (v), story concept art (vi), and infernal script (vii).
Even if this book is deeply relevant to our own times, it does not make it any more fun to read. I have to admit that my own interest in playing in adventures that involve the travels of a party of (presumably good) characters to the realms of hell to make potentially soul-destroying deals with various demons in the hope of saving people from the consequences of political treachery is limited at best. Whether as a GM or player, I tend to feel that there is enough interesting material to deal with that does not involve the darkness of various planes and their satanic inhabitants. To be sure, this sort of adventure will be appealing to a lot of people, but I don’t happen to be among the people who finds this particular thing very enjoyable. Not all adventures are made for all people, though, and I certainly see reasons why people would enjoy this, especially if one had a party that was heavily skewed to the neutral or evil side that would not be so tormented by a great deal of time spent dealing with the fractious and lawful evil rulers of Avernus, a task that I would not personally relish.