Break out your handbaskets, we’re going to Hell! At D&D Live 2019: The Descent, the next major campaign storyline for Dungeons & Dragons was announced—Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. And while it’s known at this point that adventurers start in Baldur’s Gate before traveling to the first of Hell’s nine layers, it’s now time to offer a few more details of the story.
In brief: As the adventure opens, the holy city of Elturel has disappeared from the Forgotten Realms and descended into Avernus. This event came about as the result of Avernus’s ruler, Zariel, capturing cities and using their citizens as fodder in the ongoing conflict between demons and devils known as the Blood War.
Next on Zariel’s list of cities is Elturel’s neighbor, Baldur’s Gate. Our heroes must descend into Avernus, save Elturel from certain destruction, and prevent a similar fate from befalling Baldur’s Gate.
But before we get started… let’s unpack a few of these names, shall we?
What is Avernus?
Every shred of evil is used in the Nine Hells, and each layer specializes in some way to accommodate and exploit the vices and weaknesses of mortals. The devils of Avernus—the first layer of the Nine Hells—seek to exploit pride and wrath, promising the aggrieved, enraged, and egotistical the power to fulfill their darkest obsessions. Such fulfillment, however, comes at a price.
Anyone entering Avernus finds a battlefield unlike any other in existence. Evidence of past carnage—such as the ruins of enormous war machines and fields of bleached bones—stretches across the horizon. Pieces of cities stolen from other planes, tiny remnants of Avernus’s lost beauty, evidence of destroyed celestial armies, and tombs of ancient travelers all dot the Avernian wasteland. Through it all, the River Styx winds its way across the plane as knots of demons and devils skirmish along its fetid banks.
Avernus was not always the blasted, war-torn battlefield it is today. Long ago, it was a plane of lush gardens and bucolic beauty created by Asmodeus to tempt mortals. The intrusion of the River Styx followed by endless waves of slavering demons destroyed this paradise.
Now Avernus serves as the front line of the Blood War. Demons from the Abyss use the River Styx to enter Avernus, where they hurl themselves against infernal legions of devils. Most of these devils serve Zariel, though other Lords of the Nine send forces here to help repel the demonic invaders.
What is the Blood War?
The Blood War refers to the great clash between the evil forces of chaos and law—or put another way, the demons and devils duking things out in perpetual conflict.
We discussed the Blood War more fully in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, which you can read here:
Who is Zariel?
Many years prior to Elturel’s unholy descent, the angel Zariel chastised her peers on the plane of Mount Celestia for not getting involved in the Blood War. She felt that it was the responsibility of the angelic host to destroy evil in the multiverse, rather than stand back and watch demons and devils annihilate one another, destroying vast swaths of the multiverse in the process. In defiance of her superiors, Zariel left Mount Celestia and went to the city of Elturel, where she rallied an army of warriors and trained them to fight in the Blood War. She promised them that when they were ready, she would lead them into battle on Avernus.
When the time came, Zariel led her army out of Elturel amid a throng of cheering well-wishers and proud citizens. In an epic charge known as the Ride, Zariel’s army entered Avernus and took the fight to the archdevil Bel and his infernal legions. Many of Zariel’s warriors fought bravely, but for others, the horrors of the Nine Hells proved too great. They fled back through the portal, sealing it behind them and never revealing their shameful retreat and betrayal. The Hellriders, as they were called, would wear this badge of shame to the grave.
Zariel lost more than her army on Avernus. She also lost a hand, which was severed in battle. As her sword fell to the ground, Zariel ordered Yael, her most devoted general, to take the weapon and hide it, so that the devils would not destroy or corrupt it. Yael took the sword and fled, along with Zariel’s faithful hollyphant companion, Lulu. Zariel’s other two generals, Haruman and Olanthius, refused to leave Zariel’s side. All three were captured and sent to Nessus, the lowest of the Nine Hells.
There, Zariel was brought before Asmodeus, who welcomed her with open arms.
Asmodeus, as Lord of the Nine, commended Zariel for her battle prowess and the strength of her convictions. He offered her rulership of Avernus, much to Bel’s chagrin. By swearing fealty to Asmodeus and the Nine Hells, Zariel could bring her rage to bear against the demons and continue to fight in the Blood War, with legions of devils under her command. Zariel accepted Asmodeus’s terms, completing her fall from grace. Haruman followed his master into damnation willingly and was transformed into a narzugon devil, while Olanthius, who took his own life rather than bow before Asmodeus, was brought back to serve as a death knight under Zariel’s burning gaze.
You can access all of D&D Beyond’s videos regarding Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus:
Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus releases September 17, 2019 with an MSRP of $49.95. An alternative art cover with a distinctive design and soft-touch finish will also be available exclusively in game stores.