Descent into Avernus

1.1 The Fall of Elturel

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Descent into Avernus has one of the single worst openings of any module I have ever read.

I am not even exaggerating. It literally forces you to care about some city you aren’t even in, or possibly in any way connected to. If you refuse, then the quest giver sends murder squads after you until you die or do as he says.

Wow let’s not do that.

First of all, check out Remixing Avernus – Part 1: The Beginning over on The Alexandrian. Justin writes in detail about the premise of the campaign and ways to fix the glaring errors.

One of his suggestions is to start the adventure way before the module suggests – so that is what we are going to do.

PRELUDE TO DISASTER: The PCs are actually in Elturel when something goes horribly wrong with the Companion in the sky above. Black lightning seems to be attacking the guardian of the city! Then black lightning begins lancing down, as well, striking buildings, streets, and people. Panic sets in and some people begin trying to flee the city. The PCs barely escape when the city suddenly vanishes!

Justin Alexander on Remixing Avernus – Part 1: The Beginning

Prelude to Disaster

Initially my plan was to run a whole session before the Companion goes all crazy and the city of Elturel falls. This is in fact what the DM’s Guild adventure The Fall of Elturel* does. It also entirely undermines the Alexandrian Remix by revealing key information for the first chapter’s mystery – the villains of Baldur’s Gate.

I’m sure you could rewrite it to make it work, but I had already informed my players in our Session 0 that Elturel would ‘be destroyed’ and to create characters who would care to find out why and by whom. As such, that’s where I started the campaign.

I told the players to create characters who would be in Elturel and to think about what they were doing and why they were there.

The Fall of Elturel

This introductory scene starts in Elturel around midnight. Each player (except Lulu’s) gives a brief introduction of their character and what they are doing. What do they look like? What is their role or position in life? Why are they in Elturel?

Lulu as a Player Character: I am also using Lulu as a PC, so she is with us from Session 1. If that isn’t the case for your group, simply replace her with some sort of divine intervention or other deus ex machina. This could be a warlock’s patron, one of the characters gods, Torm, or even Dara (see below).

Once everyone has done their introductions, send Lulu’s player the following message;

You hear the voice of Torm in your head “You must protect them; the guided blade, the divinely inspired, and the betrayer’s son. Flee Lulu, flee and find out who did this. I charge you with this sacred duty. Find them and bring my fury upon them!”​

Then immediately begin narrating how the Companion is struck by black lightening, which forks off and hits buildings and people – mass panic in the streets and a moment of chaos. Do this while Lulu’s player reads your message.

Obviously you will want to change the names of the characters, or as in my case come up with prophetic names. My group has a hexblade Hellrider (reskinned an unknown to the player celestial patron it’s the Sword of Zariel), an artificer of Gond from Lantan, and an elven outcast whose parents were Hellriders who betrayed their companions during the Night of the Red Coup and were vampires.

Because I didn’t want to drag out this opening, I just narrated how Lulu found the characters and teleported them a dozen miles outside of the city to the west. You may want to instead frame this as a series of small montage scenes, but that potentially loses some of the immediate impact and chaos.

Once the teleport happens, Lulu doesn’t really even know how or if she did it. Maybe it was her, maybe it was Torm. The rest of the characters will no doubt question her, serving as her character introduction.

Of course if you aren’t using Lulu as a PC, the deus ex machina will be just as surprising and just as unclear as to what even happened (thanks Lulu amnesia!).

It is important to realise here that due to the fact these events happened at night time, once the city of Elturel falls and the Companion disappears the entire region is now in darkness. The Companion had been bathing the region in its unnatural light for 50 years, so any character from Elturel itself might have never seen real night and darkness before – which could be an interesting character moment.

Once the conversation between the PCs begins to slow down, they spot a small collection of buildings nearby, the largest of which catches ablaze. Soon the barn next to it is ablaze too… and there’s a gathering of people, all in chaos.

Climbing on top of a cart stands an approximately 10 year old girl. This is Dara, from the Adventure League module DDAL09-01 Escape from Elturgard*

We will be using that module for the first couple of sessions, and using the refugee NPCs it provides to further complicate matters – as well as reinforce the plight of the common people of Elturgard and their now refugee status. It’s the hook into Elturel and its people that the original Descent into Avernus entirely lacks!

Links marked with an * asterisk symbol are DrivTrhuRPG / DMs Guild Affiliate Links, which may earn me up to 5% of your purchases in commission at no extra cost to you.

Descent into Avernus

Devil Deals – Bargain-Basement Death Saves

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One of the optional rules in Chapter 3: Avernus is Bargain Basement Death Saves (page 78, Descent into Avernus). The concept is that if a character fails a Death Saving Throw in the Nine Hells, an archdevil may telepathically contact them and offer to save them from death if they agree to do some undisclosed task in the future.

While the idea is awesome, the implementation leaves something to be desired.

Secret Deals

I’m actually a fan of making these a secret, so only the downed player even knows of the deal being offered, and whether or not they have accepted it. To do this you could either privately message the player (in a whisper, Discord private chat, or even text to their phone), telling them to reply in kind.

This means they then try to keep their deal secret from the other characters, which could make for some great roleplay opportunities. It also will be fun when the next person goes down and gets a deal – leaving them wondering “Did Jane also get a deal like this? Did they take it?”

By the book should you accept the deal, the benefit is a natural 20 on your next Death Saving Throw, so automatic revival at 1 HP.

The best way to do that, if you are trying to keep it a secret is to have all Death Saving Throws be done in secret just between the player and the DM (or for even more chaotic fun, just done by the DM in secret). Obviously you would need to set that precedent at the start of the campaign, or it’s kind of weird.

Failing that, you could just have it clearly be something extraordinary, but intentionally fail to elaborate and pretend to even leave the player without answer to why it happened.

“As you fail your last saving throw, your body convulses as if surging with energy. Your eyes open, barely escaping death – somehow.”

Obviously they are ‘in on it’, but it gives them an opportunity to feign ignorance. If you avoid theming it as something dark or evil happening, they could possibly even claim it to be a divine blessing from their god, or other benevolent act.

This also allows you to give a mechanical bonus for accepting the bargain, related to the archdevil, which lasts until they complete the task (see below). You could have the archdevil renegotiate a further deal upon its completion, to maintain the boon for a new task, or escalate even further.

Devilish Bargains

The task themselves are meant to be “usually simple and straightforward” and take the effect of a geas spell with no save allowed. If you somehow break the bargain, such as with a remove curse spell, then you immediately fall down dying again.

This is super weak. Not only is geas a measly 5d10 psychic damage once per day easily survived and healed through, but being able to remove it at a convenient time and immediately heal out of death saves is not exactly tricky.

Instead how about breaking the deal causes your soul to be forfeit, until you accept an even harsher bargain or gain it back due to divine intervention or a wish spell.

The daily damage could simply be changed to a smaller amount every hour you aren’t actively working towards the task and 1 level of Exhaustion each day. It is much harder to survive damage spread out every hour and the harsh stacking penalties of exhaustion, but still not immediately crippling or an instant death.

Bargain-Basement Death Saves: When you would need to make a death saving throw while in Avernus, you are contacted telepathically by an Archdevil. If you accept their task the archdevil will immediately restore you to full HP and present you with their boon. Should you stop working towards the task you will begin taking 1d10 psychic damage every hour, as well as gain an unremovable level of exhaustion every 24 hours. If you somehow remove the effect your soul is forfeit; you cannot be brought back to life without divine intervention or the permission of the archdevil.

Pre-Written Bargains

Here is a list of bargains from each of the archdevils mentioned in the campaign. You may wish to add more to highlight other archdevils/layers of Hell.

If you keep this list to hand, simply cross them off when you use them – writing a new one to replace it during your next prep session. If you go through all these deals in a single session, maybe the archdevils just no longer consider the characters worth saving.

I can’t see many players accepting an unspecified task, as who know what that might even be… so I’ve included the task in the bargain. You could always reveal it after they accept, should you prefer it to be unknown.

Zariel’s Bargain

“Weakling. Have you given up your will to fight? I can make you stand strong, ready to charge gloriously against your enemies once more. All I ask in return is that you kill demons – a dozen sent back to the Abyss – a service to all creatures everywhere.”

Boon: Your eyes blaze with a burning radiance, allowing you to reroll a single Attack roll (including Spell Attacks) once per long rest.

Bel’s Bargain

“I could save your soul, bringing you back to life and giving you the tools you need to destroy your enemies. Red Ruth owes me tribute, collect it from her and bring it to my forge, and my gifts shall be yours.”

Boon: You regain consciousness, your weapon now glowing with veins of hellfire. It counts as being made of infernal iron, sheds dim light in a 5-food-radius and counts as a +1 magical weapon. (If a spell caster consider giving them a similar +1 Wand of the War Mage)

Tiamat’s Bargain

“Mortal, tremble beneath the majesty of the Dragon Queen. You suffer needlessly, dying like a maggot in the dirt, yet in my service you could bask in eternal glory. The wimp Uldrak possesses an item of importance to me – the Orb of Dragonkind. Kill him and deliver it to my champion in his dark tower. Uldrak must not survive.”

Boon: You awaken with dragon fire coursing through your veins. Once per long rest you may spew forth magical energy from your mouth, dealing 4d6 acid, cold, fire, lightening or poison damage in a 15-foot cone. Targets who succeed on a Dexterity saving throw take half damage.

Mephistopheles’ Bargain

“The battle of Avernus barely scratches the surface of the Nine Hells. You are destined for so much more. Let me bring you back from the brink of death and bestow upon you great magical power – and all you need do is speak with the wizard Mordenkainen in his tower. Convince him to speak with me at the Mirror of Mephistar.”

Boon: The mysteries of the arcane unravel inside your mind – giving you a glimpse of the weaves infinite complexities. Any time you make a saving throw against a spell you gain temporary hit points equal to twice the spell’s level.

Mahadi’s Bargain*

“My friend, my friend, why are you so down? Your soul is very heavy and cold, barely fading away. Let me give you a hand back up! In exchange you only need to wreck the War Machine of one of the Warlords scattered across this blasted wasteland, a single rod in the wrong place, a redirected pipe will do just fine, for we all need repairs do we not?”

Boon: Your hands gain the ability to flex backwards as well as forwards, You gain +5 to your Sleight of Hand checks to sabotage or fix a War Machine once per long rest.

* Mahadi is actually working for Asmodeus, so while not an archdevil himself, he commands the power to deliver bargains to further his master’s goals.

Mahadi’s bargain was sent to me by Shadows_Assassin

Descent into Avernus

Descent into Avernus – Extra Content

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I’ll be back filling in these over time, so if an article isn’t linked yet I just haven’t got around to writing it yet!

If the article is linked but not yet accessible, that means it is currently in Early Access for my Patrons – join today for instant access to all early access articles as well as many benefits.

Additional Content

Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Cities

Chapter 2: Elturel Has Fallen

  • Better the Vampire You Know

Chapter 3: Avernus

  • Dara’s Quest
  • The Adamantine Rod of Nine Parts
  • Kostchtchie’s Vanthampur Jailers

Chapter 4: Sword of Zariel

Chapter 5: Escape from Avernus

I’m sure more content will come as I progress through the campaign – so I will update this list retroactively.

Descent into Avernus is just over a year old as I write this blog post. It is a campaign of a dozen fantastic ideas, poorly connected and often lacking in coordination. This has been covered in depth by Justin Alexander over at his blog, in the Remixing Avernus series.

I will assume that anyone reading my content has at least read, if not fully incorporated, all of his Remix. It would probably also help to have read some of his other articles. I will link to any of them which are pertinent to my content as much as possible.

I’ve also become a Patreon of _PogS_ who releases fantastic maps, both for free in lower (but still totally usable) quality as well as in full quality for their Patreons.

The point of these articles is to provide content which utilises _PogS_ maps and Justin’s Remixed content, expanding upon it rather than replacing it. It also builds upon Adventure League modules and DM’s Guild content in places too.