Categories
Descent into Avernus

1.3e Day 7, 8, 9 & 10

Tables of Contents

Day 7

Afternoon: Goblin Ambush

Overview

As the caravan travels continue along the Chionthar they enter back into a woodland area. Unfortunately, this is the home of the Black Fang Clan of goblins who have laid an ambush to try and steal supplies.

It’s important to remember that the goblins aren’t look for a fight to the death, they just see the caravan as easy pickings. There’s shouts in goblin to surrender, the wolves come charging from the forest, and arrows begin peppering the caravans.

The PCs are level 2 at this point and so the battle itself should be with goblins each of which has a wolf, 1 per PC minus 1 (So a 4 person party should face 3 goblins and 3 wolves). The goblins release the wolves to attack and harry the enemy and keep them at a distance, while they attack from cover with their short bows.

There are more goblins than this, which are being fought on the other side by the combative refugees; Vasha, Wellum, Gordrick and Pal.

Should the wolves be slaughtered the goblins will flee into the forest. Any goblin hit by an attack and not killed will also flee on their turn.

Purpose

Yet more danger on the road and a chance for some more combat if that’s what your group needs. Not all groups will be keen on the roleplaying based events, so events like this and some combat from the Bad Fortunes can really help!

The PCs may choose to have the caravans flee, so don’t feel you need to set up a battle map and miniatures and have the PCs dismounted or anything like that. See how they react to the initial attack and go from there!

It also presents an opportunity to have some of the refugees killed off in the attack if you want to lessen the number of them going into the Baldur’s Gate portion of the adventure and further highlight the dangers of being outside of civilisation.

Day 8

Morning: Devil in the Details

This scene is from D&D Beyond’s Encounter of the Week. It’s a whole series of encounters meant to present an entry point for a Descent into Avernus campaign, but in my opinion it’s pretty flawed which is why I haven’t used it… this isn’t a full review although maybe that could be something I look into in a future article.

The encounter is of a more social nature, with an imp named Pip Kip who is stranded on the material plane after his summoner was killed. He will approach the wagon disguised as a raven and claim to be a wizard’s familiar and offer infernal contracts, with a trick attached.

As written I don’t see this ending in anything but the PCs refusing the deals and killing the devil. After all, you would be mad to trust a raven that produces contracts in Infernal and hurries you to sign them.

Instead lets use this as an opportunity to explain the nature of devils, their power and the rules of contracts.

Overview

Pip Kip, in raven form, descends down and lands on a felled tree before the caravans. He calls out in Common “Help! Help!” to lure people over to him.

He will then tell the truth (kind of) saying he was summoned to the Material Plane by a wizard who was then killed, leaving him trapped here until his bargain is complete. The disguised imp will then ask for the PCs to agree to help him complete his contract so that he can return to his home plane.

If pressed he will say that his contract was to help his summoner get revenge on a group of gnolls who had killed his son. Should the PCs be interested, he asks them to swear an oath that they will help him.

The oath is in no way binding or a contract, Pip Kip just hopes that do-gooders will want to keep their oath.

If an oath is made, Pip Kip will confide in them his true nature as an imp, explaining that all devils must be true to their sworn word, due to the Pact Primevil made between Asmodeus and the Gods. He made a pact with his summoner to help him kill the gnolls and would remain on the Material Plane until the gnolls were dead. Unfortunately the summoner was killed by the gnolls when he attacked them, but Pip Kip had failed to realise his own contract was flawed – he was now cursed to stay here until the gnolls died… and that could take years!

He presents to the PCs a contract, appearing in his beak in a puff of smoke. Pip Kip explains that no Devil can make a contract and break it, or the Pact Primeval will see the devil punished for eternity.

The contract details how the PCs will work to kill the gnolls as soon as possible, in order for Pip Kip to return back to his home plane of Avernus. Neither side is allowed to harm the other or they forfeit their souls to the other. Should the PCs help Pip Kip they will be granted one Common Minor Magic Item, from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything page 140.

Here are some example items you may wish Pip Kip to offer, or you could let players choose;

  • Armour of Gleaming
  • Ruby of the War Mage
  • Tankard of Sobriety
  • Enduring Spellbook
  • Charlatan’s Die

If questioned most of the refugees would obviously be against helping a devil in any way. Dara however confirms Pip Kip’s statements – he is trapped here and his contract is legitimate. Plus gnolls are chaotic demon spawn who attack without mercy and eat the fallen, they are inherently evil and wiping them out is a good idea.

Should the PCs take Pip Kip up on his offer and sign the contract he will present each of them with a duplicate and keep a copy for himself. He explains that all devil contracts are two part and only when brought together can a contract be broken. The other half of his summoner’s contract in near his body, so that’s what he needs recovered.

He will escort them to the gnolls who are nearby. The band consists of 1 gnoll per 2 PCs lead by a Gnoll Flesh Gnawer. The body of the summoner can be found among them, nothing more than chewed bones and blood soaked robes. His discarded coin purse contains 14 gp and the summoner’s copy of the contract he made with Pip Kip. The imp will be overjoyed to have it and will summon his own version and destroy the two together, causing them to burn into infernal flames.

Pip Kip will then thank the PCs for their help and give them their rewards as promised. Should any of the PCs be interested he would consider becoming their familiar instead, although this time he has learnt his lesson and will place a time limit – although he might be willing to negotiate to extend it once it is near expiration with another deal. If they agree he will serve them for a tenday. Failing that he will simply return to Avernus.

Purpose

The point of this encounter is to impart lore on what devils are within the setting and how deals work. We don’t even need to care if the PCs take the deal here really, we just want to set them up for later in Avernus.

It’s also a good way to put across “Deals with devils can be rewarding without screwing you over” which sets them up to be more keen to take bigger, worse deals in the future.

Day 9

Evening: Hope at last

Overview

As evening starts to set in the group decides to stop and set up camp once they reach the hill ahead. Yet as they crest the top they are greeted by the sight of the Sea of Swords and the city of Baldur’s Gate! It looks like they will arrive tomorrow afternoon.

As such it’s nice to have a small scene of reflection on what happened since Elturel fell and everyone had to leave their homes over the evening meal.

With this travel section being something of a ‘choose the scenes you want’, I can’t explicitly tell you what to include here but here’s some ideas.

  • A Unity prayer to thank the Companion for their imminent arrival in Baldur’s Gate.
  • Time to mourn and talk about those who have died on the journey.
  • People’s plans once they arrive at Baldur’s Gate
    • Dara wants to visit the Shrine of the Suffering to complete her pilgrimage.
    • Alyssa wants to find Fessel’s family and inform them of his death.
  • Speculate on what happened to Elturel and if the same thing could happen to Baldur’s Gate, or has already happened to other cities.

Purpose

This is a moment of hope for the PCs and refugees. It should be something of a relief to have their destination in sight. Think of it as the calm before the storm, as soon they arrive in Baldur’s Gate and realise things aren’t as simple as they thought.

Any NPCs you want to leave could make their intentions known in this scene. Here are some specific ideas for each NPC group if you would like them to leave the campaign.

THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS ARE FOR HOW TO REMOVE NPCS FROM THE CAMPAIGN – They are not what you ‘should do’.

  • Dara, Ghorin and Clyde: Dara’s been on a pilgrimage from Amn to the Shrine of the Suffering in Baldur’s Gate, so they are almost there.
    • GM Note: I have plans for them in my Extra Content, so you may need to ignore later articles about them, or otherwise work to reincorporate them, should you remove them from the campaign.
  • Vasha and Sergen: They have the money to get a ship to Waterdeep, where Vasha has distant family.
  • Hastrine: There are ancient stories that the Cloak Wood Forest is said to hold fey portals to the Feywild. She would very much like to investigate and find her way back there.
  • Wellum: Wants to put the dreadful business behind him and take up work again in a small village smithy.
  • Gordrick Ironarm: Thinks maybe it is time to return home and end his exile. He will return to the Cloak Wood Forest mines, which have once again become a dwarven mine after being drained of flood water a century ago.
  • Ippon and Pal: Ippon wishes to travel to Daggerford. She heard that the city was recently attacked by strange frog demons who emerged from magic portals, and is hoping to establish herself as an important merchant there. Pal of course is being dragged whether Ippon leads.
  • Alyssa: Will leave to inform Fessel’s family of his death and mourn with them in Baldur’s Gate.
  • Billiam: If you used The Liar section then he’s already dead. However if you did not then he wants to continue on to Candlekeep to present his great story as his entry gift.
  • Vollis: Is likely either dead or fled from the group follow The Liar. However, if not she will say she is happy to be home and will seek out her family. This is a lie, she will go to the Hamhock Slaughterhouse and inform them all about the refugees if any of them are Elturgard Knights.

I actually didn’t remove any of the NPCs in my own campaign, although other than Dara, Ghorin, Clyde, Vasha and Hasterine most faded into the background entirely once the PCs reached Baldur’s Gate and were more just a nebulous group.

Day 10

Afternoon: Arrival at Baldur’s Gate

Overview

Farmland turns into small villages and more civilized areas as Baldur’s Gate draws nearer and nearer. The refugees past by various small hamlets and eventually Rivington and cross Wyrm’s Crossing.

Wyrm’s Crossing is stopping all river traffic and redirecting them to a temporary dock in Rivington. Vessels are searched and only genuine merchants are permitted entry into the Gray Harbour of the city proper – everyone else is forced to disembark and cross Wyrm’s Crossing.

Wrym’s Crossing taxes everyone who passes through it a 5 cp toll.

There are many beggars here and one scrawny looking teenage girl approaches the caravan asking for a silver for her and her sister to pay the toll. Even if the PCs give her the money, she immediately leaves and approaches another group and gives them the same sob story and asks again for a silver.

Inns won’t take refugees mostly because they are already full, but also a growing fear that the ‘refugees’ are a precursor to invasion. Everyone just tells them to head to the Basilisk Gate where a refugee camp is forming by the city wall suitable for their kind.

Finally as the caravans reach the city walls, they see the camp for themselves. It’s cramped in between Stonyeyes and the city wall. These refugees are clearly not doing well.

An elvish druid named Marsaadi Woodsoul, the leader of the camp and former companion of Hasterine’s approaches them and welcomes them to the camp. She tells them of the situation;

  • The Basilisk Gate is closed to refugees. Only citizens are being allowed into the city right now.
  • Many of the locals fear that the refugees are scouts or an advanced force from Elturel who have killed Grand Duke Ravengard after failed negotiations with Thavius Kreeg and now seek to invade.
  • Some refugees are risking forged papers and extortionate fees for ‘The Guild’ to smuggle them into the city.
    • GM Note: It isn’t The Guild, it is Amrik Vanthampur’s agents.
  • Refugees are being murdered and dumped behind an inn nearby. The Flaming Fists aren’t investigating, but perhaps the PCs could speak with Flame Zodge at the Basilisk Gate and convince him to help make this place safe.

Purpose

This final scene sets up the transition from wilderness travel across the wild countryside into an urban campaign.

Ideally you want to paint the Outer City as a hostile and unwelcoming place for the refugees – they need to get into the Lower City to really feel safe.

We are also setting up for the Outer City Murders, which will be the next major series of articles. First up will be a single post on using the Baldur’s Mouth newspaper as a vector to get rumours and lore in handout form to your players.

Categories
Descent into Avernus

Summoned Creatures in Avernus

Tables of Contents

In my previous article about Summoned Creatures in 5e D&D I talked about how you might want to create custom summoning tables for specific adventure locales in order to push the areas themes.

Of course as someone currently creating extra content for Descent into Avernus I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do so for Avernus!

In some ways this is no different than creating random encounter tables. They exist to give you the DM a toolbox of what could be found in the area should you need some immediate inspiration to pull into the game.

Yet spells which summon monsters follow specific rules, which means we can’t simply just list off a whole bunch of creatures and be done with it. So let’s first look at the summoning spells available and their rules.

However you might want to further twist the creatures (summoned or not) in Avernus, so at the end of this article there are random tables for making them more appropriately Hellish.

Summoning Spells

Summon beasts/elementals/fey from one of the following options;

  • One [type] of challenge rating 2 or lower
  • Two [type] of challenge rating 1 or lower
  • Four [type] of challenge rating 1/2 or lower
  • Eight [type] of challenge rating 1/4 or lower

As mentioned in the previous article, Sage Advice Compendium states that the player picks the option but the DM picks the specifics of what is summoned.

It is interesting that the options say “of challenge rating X or lower” which means it is totally possible to choose lower CR creatures if there are no adequate creatures available.

Looking at our list below it means you could for example not allow CR 1 creatures as an option. I wouldn’t recommend it though, just give them some ‘fiendish’ variants of the normal choices.

This does mean however that we only need to care about creatures of CR 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8.

Avernus Beasts

Perhaps the easiest option is simply cosmetically reflavour, rather than having actual unique statblocks for new creatures. A Saber-Toother Tiger could have massive spines, a Polar Bear could have blood red fur to match the blasted Hellscape, or a wolf could appear as a blazing canine.

I’ve created some tables of features at the bottom of this article which you may find useful for the process of reflavouring to match an Avernus aesthetic.

However, it’s important to consider whether it might be confusing or counter to the narrative if these cosmetic effects seem like they should have mechanical effects. Our blazing canine not being resistant or immune to fire damage is a bit wonky, but I’ve found most players are happy if you just let them know upfront “This stuff is purely cosmetic, like a DLC skin in a video game.”

If you wanted to make mechanical changes be sure to consider how this might influence the CR of the creature. Giving our blazing canines fire immunity and converting half their damage to fire is probably okay but try not to change too much unless you want to homebrew a completely new creature!

The other option is to actually look at creatures which would count as beasts within Avernus… there’s a few in the book already, which while not technically Beasts they kind of are if you are already in Hell. You could either use their proper statblocks and accept they aren’t quite following the rules, or you could use typical beast statblocks and again just cosmetically change them.

After going through the book here’s all the creatures I could find mentioned in Avernus (with a few from other books). I won’t bother including animals you could cosmetically change to fit which aren’t mentioned, because that’s basically anything.

CR 2

  • Hell Hounds (CR 3 fiends): Saber-Toothed Tigers (CR 2) are a good fit in terms of power and vague flavour, just without the ‘fire stuff’.

CR 1

  • None specifically mentioned in the book. Check the random tables below to turn normal animals into twisted Avernus versions.

CR 1/2

  • Hellwasps (CR 5 fiends): Obviously too high CR, but Giant Wasps (CR 1/2) make an obvious substitute choice and could be juveniles.
  • Giant Fly (CR 0 beasts): Found in the DMG on page 169 these things have no attacks, but you could easily use a Stirge (CR 1/4) or even the Giant Fly (CR 1/2) from the Tome of Horrors.

CR 1/4

  • Abyssal Chickens (CR 1/4 fiends): Summoning 8 crazy demon chickens is pretty amazing, at least visually. Velociraptors are the same CR and pretty similar.
  • Fiendish Scorpion (CR 3 beasts): Unfortunately too high CR and the regular scorpion is just too weak. While a weird choice visually, the stats for the Giant Poisonous Snake (CR 1/4) is somewhat close, including blindsight and is medium size, or the Giant Centipede (CR 1/4) which is small.
  • Achaierai (beasts): Large flightless birds similar in appearance to quails, from the adjacent plane of Acheron. Could easily be represented by Axe Beaks which speak Infernal. (CR 1/4)
  • Stench Kow (CR 1/4 beasts): From Volo’s Guide to Monsters and native to the Lower Planes. Basically a big smelly bison which is pretty amusing and quite strong.

CR 1/8

  • Devil Crabs (CR 1/8 beasts): These are just giant crabs with “spines protruding from their shells and the vile brimstone smell they exude”
  • Stirges (CR 1/8 beasts): Surprisingly flocks of these creatures patrol the airs of Avernus, along with ‘biting flies and hellwasps’.

Avernus Creature Generators

Type

An additional creature type can give you a basic framework, allowing you to push another animal type on top of your base creature.

Giant Hyenas on Avernus might also be Skeletal (01), allowing you to describe them as carrion themselves, with loose flesh hanging from their blood-stained bones.

Pixies summoned on Avernus might be Ram-like (19) with great twisting horns, cloven feet and shaggy fur.

Smoke Mephits conjured to Avernus might be Fly-like (16) and take the form of giant flies, fat and bloated that drone with an incessant buzzing.

d20Type
01Skeletal
02Spider-like
03Bat-like
04Snake-like
05Lizard-like
06Bull-like
07Wasp-like
08Ape-like
09Vulture-like
10Dog-like
11Cat-like
12Squid-like
13Pig-like
14Ant-like
15Crocodile-like
16Fly-like
17Stirge-like
18Crab-like
19Ram-like
20Dragon-like
Add an additional Type to your existing creature to give it an Avernus feel

Features

There are of course a lot of overlap between Type and Features. Squid-like implies tentacles, wet smooth skin in strange hues and a beak. As such these features will focus on non-animal specific features or more generic features.

You may want to roll for multiple Features, but try not to overload a single creature with so many it becomes hard to visualise. You are often better off describing a single prominent element and letting the players imaginations fill in the finer details.

d12Feature
01Bleeds from open sores
02Fiery
03Barbed / Spiked
04Bound with chains
05Bound with armour
06Extra eye(s)
07Swarmed by flies/wasps/mosquitoes
08Extra limbs
09Noxious (brimstone, smoke, spores)
10Profanely symbolled
11Exposed flesh and muscles
12Glows with an evil light
Add these features either in combination with or instead of Type as you see fit.
Categories
D&D 5e

Summoned Creatures in 5e D&D

Summoning spells in D&D 5e are quite a complicated topic. There are a few main issues that often come up, either narrative or mechanical in nature;

  • Do certain summoning spells not work in unusual places such as Avernus?
  • Who gets to pick the creatures and how do you pick what is summoned?
  • How can you prevent summons from slowing down combat?

The last two points are perhaps the most important for most players and DMs, yet the thematic nature of what is summoned can have some rather interesting implications which shouldn’t be overlooked.

Can I summon pixies to Avernus?

I’ve seen some DMs say that Conjure Woodland Beings and similar spells make no sense in the middle of Hell… but saying “No, you can’t summon fey to Avernus” just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you do that I hope the player has a way to choose a different spell instead.

I really like how D&D 5e has taken to cosmetically changing spells to match the location. I’ve not read all the modules but both Descent into Avernus and Curse of Strahd do this for a handful of spells, giving them little nudges to fit the theme.

Find Steed in Ravenloft gives you a skeletal horse and in Avernus a nightmare. Only cosmetically of course. Yet there’s no mention of changes to the main conjure/summon spells.

We could assume this is because these spells don’t care – you are literally conjuring them from nothing, or from a different Plane. Yet, another option would be to reflavour these creatures too, cosmetically at least. I think that’s the more interesting option!

Give them horns, spikes, dripping bloody wounds, or anything that reinforces the themes of the adventure location. Tokens which match the visual you are going for will ensure these changes are kept front and centre.

You may want to either change the choices to only match the theme, or create entirely new options specific to the theme. This extra work can really make a big difference in helping push the thematic tones of your campaign.

I choose to summon 8 pixies!

The discussion that sparked this article was whether a player could choose to summon 8 pixies and have them carry the characters safely down from a great height.

This goes against the Sage Advice Compendium’s ruling (although obviously the DM may choose to ignore the ruling).

Sage Advice Compendium, v2.6 page 16

So maybe you find the inventiveness of having a player conjure some pixies to solve the problem really fun and creative so you say “Sure, pixies show up and carry you down.” (I would have spined devils come and make things even more fun!)

Yet, maybe the choice isn’t inventive or fun to you. Maybe the player read a guide which told them to pick 8 wolves because they clog up the battlefield, have great attacks thanks to Pack Tactics and Trip and maximise action economy… to me that isn’t inventive or fun at all to do every single combat.

Okay so Pixie#1 casts entangle… Pixie#2 casts…

One of the single biggest complaints you will read from DMs about summoning spells, animate dead and paying for loads of henchmen in 5e is that they massively slow down combat – and it’s true.

Back in older editions such as Basic/Expert, it was expected for the party to actually be quite large, with players sometimes hiring a whole bunch of NPCs to fight alongside them.

However, as the complexity of the game increased, so did the length of combats. There’s pages to be written about the issue, but essentially when you compare a single human NPC making a crossbow attack to 8 pixies each of which is casting spells that require multiple saving throws (entangle, confusion, sleep) you can tell it’s going to take much longer.

How best to handle it? Well you have a number of options…

First of all, just avoid giving the players multiple NPCs with complex abilities and spells. If one player already takes 5 minutes to choose which spell to use on their turn, maybe avoid giving them 8 pixies to manage as well. Choose more straightforward creatures with just plain attacks such as needle blights or giant badgers.

Or, rather than just flat out never giving the player mechanically complex creatures, try giving them a mix of creatures. 6 badgers and 2 wolves is a lot quicker to play, with less knockdowns and pack tactics to worry about.

Another option to speed things up is to always use average damage for any summons or henchmen. These are included on the statblocks for a reason! This can save a lot of time.

Finally one often forgotten (or never read) rule lies hidden away in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Keeping combat moving along at a brisk pace can be difficult when there are dozens of monsters involved in a battle. When handling a crowded battlefield, you can speed up play by forgoing attack rolls in favor of approximating the average number of hits a large group of monsters can inflict on a target.

Handling Mobs, page 250 of the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide

The idea is that you subtract the creatures attack bonus from the AC of the target and figure out the minimum roll needed for the target to hit. You then compare this to a table which states how many monsters have to be attacking the target to score a single hit – you never actually roll dice and instead just take the average number who are likely to hit.

So rather than worry if the 8 wolves hit the bearded devils, you simply take their attack bonus (+4) and remove it from the devils AC (13) leaving us with a 9+ on a d20 to hit. The table lists that if the d20 roll required is between 6 to 12 then you need 2 attackers per successful hit.

As such we know that 4 wolves hit and 4 miss. No rolls required!

But what about Pack Tactics or other sources of advantage? Well, Advantage is mechanically interchanged in other rules for +5, so in our example above now every wolf with pack tactics in effect hits.

Sure it’s not for every group, and it’s not for every fight. I would only implement the Mob Rules if people are unhappy about how slow combat is becoming due to summoned creatures, but it’s a good rule to keep in mind.

Summary

  • Don’t limit player choices for narrative reasons, change the narrative to make sense of the choice!

    If you think pixies in Avernus are weird, maybe make them fiendish counterparts who are neutral evil due to the pervasive evil of Avernus. You could really sell this by finding tokens with a more fiendish appearance, or showing art to your players as you describe the fiendish twists.
  • The player chooses the number and CR of what they want to summon, but the DM picks the specific creatures.

    You could make up random tables to roll on or just fiat pick things that best fit the narrative and seem fun. Don’t let a min-maxer dominate the table by picking the Most Optimum Choice, unless that’s the kind of game you want to run.
  • There are various methods to speed up summoned creatures in combat;
    • Use less mechanically complex creatures (or only a few)
    • Use average damage for summoned creatures
    • Use Mob Rules to automate how many creatures hit if people are unhappy with how much time summoned creature attacks take to resolve

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