BALDUR'S GATE: DESCENT INTO AVERNUS / AUTHOR: WIZARDS OF THE COAST / PUBLISHER: DUNGEONS & DRAGONS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The name Baldur’s Gate tends to evoke fond memories from a certain sort of Dungeons & Dragons player. The Forgotten Realm’s most notorious and crime ridden city is not only one of the key gateways to adventure, it’s also the name of a popular D&D video game from 1998. Though Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus is set in the same place as that game and has similar themes of high adventure and dirty dealing, it’s a very different story, so those looking for attack hamsters should look elsewhere. Instead, what we have is a lushly detailed and well-illustrated campaign for gamers of pretty much any level. The campaign starts all the way from level one to an ominous level thirteen. It’s a 256-page hardback book with a big fold-out map in the back and lots of monsters, rules, background information, and adventure.The titular Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells. Or to put it another way, this is a place that at first takes you to the wonderful port city of Baldur’s Gate and then everything goes to Hell. Literally. Baldur’s Gate itself gets a bit of a makeover. We have a full guide to the city, but they’ve amped up the grim-dark a little this time round. Unlike other places in the Forgotten Realms setting (such as Waterdeep or Neverwinter), Baldur’s Gate is a dangerous place to live. With the material available, most Dungeon Masters could just run an entire campaign here with the party as a team of crusading crime fighters and never even actually touch the plot.
Assuming you do, though, the next part of the adventure is rather epic, mixing high adventure with a touch of Clive Barker-style horror. We’re desperate not to spoil things, but the clue is in the campaign’s name. The path leads to a fallen city and then into the gates of Hell. And beyond. Everything slots neatly together and this is one of those campaigns that, if you remove the players, would run as an intriguing story in its own right. It’s a hell of a ride, in fact, it even goes a bit Mad Max at one point.
There is a lot for a party to do, and the book falls over itself to provide players with plot hooks and character backgrounds. There are also plenty of new monsters, some very amusing (and useful) magic items as well as rules for demonic devices and devilish pacts. The latter is assisted by a whole new font in the back of the book that can be used to write hand-outs in the infernal language.
Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus is a gorgeous book, designed to let people run all sort of fantasy campaigns, as long as it’s a bit dark. There’s plenty of horror thrown into the mix, though if you want to go full on heroic you certainly can. Hours of fun in one book, and perfect for the busy nerd who just needs some inspiration to get that party started.