"Mad Max in Hell": Everything to Know About D&D's 'Descent Into Avernus'

Devilish hotrods and never-ending warfare populate the upcoming 'Dungeons & Dragons' adventure set in Baldur's Gate and the Nine Hells.

Dungeons and Dragons Descent Into Avernus

For the first time since the release of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, players will explore the iconic city of Baldur’s Gate, first made famous by the popular video game from 1998. But now, in 2019, Baldur’s Gate is in trouble. Gripped by forces from the Nine Hells, adventurers must decide the fate of Baludr’s Gate and the hellish land of Avernus in Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, the newest adventure coming to D&D.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avenrus, hitting retail on September 17, is a new 256-page campaign for levels 1-13 that sends players from Baldur’s Gate down into the first layer of Hell, Avernus, where rolling “Infernal War Machines” roam the lands like the post-apocalypse.

If Descent Into Avernus sounds a bit like “Mad Max in Hell,” well, that’s exactly what Wizards of the Coast had planned. at D&D Live 2019 in Los Angeles, California, several key creators tell Inverse how they brought the latest adventure to life.

“That was the initial selling idea,” says Franchise Creative Director, Mike Mearls. “We are always looking for things where you can take a non-D&D gamer and say the tagline and they get interested. That felt like a winner.”

But the story of Descent Into Avernus is more than just a riff on George Miller’s film series. “While ‘Mad Max in Hell’ might be really cool, it’s not enough on its own to as a story,” adds Mearls. “That’s an activity. So you start bringing in the characters, and how they start wrapping up Baldur’s Gate and make that the focus of a diabolic plot for players to foil.”

Taken from various interviews at D&D Live, here’s everything we learned about Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, including the setting, plot, and the non-player characters (NPCs) that adventurers will get to meet.

Dungeons and Dragons
Cover of 'Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernis.'

The Plot and Story of Descent Into Avernus

Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus takes place in the city of Baludr’s Gate as it becomes gripped by the forces of Hell. The adventure then sends players into Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells, in which the Blood War — waged between demons and devils — rages on like the seasons.

If brave players so choose, they can enter the very middle of the Blood War, a concept first introduced as a trading card game in 1995 that re-emerged as a chapter in last year’s Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

“I like to think of it as A Tale of Two Cities,” says Chris Perkins, Principal Story Designer for Dungeons & Dragons. “One city has fallen under the sway of hell, the other is in danger of suffering the same fate unless you step in and do something about it, and getting themselves into all kinds of trouble, meeting color characters down there. It is a scary environment. The threats you’re facing are not typical.”

Perkins further teases that the Blood War is fully interactive, though it’s a risk that should prompt serious discussion among players.

“Theres nothing stopping the characters from getting in the middle of it because it is actually happening,” he says. “You come upon these great forces colliding and you see the carnage going on. It would take a brave party of adventurers to want to step foot into that, but they can. And it’s a case where we want the characters to have discussion among themselves: If we involve ourselves, are we going to change anything? Or are we just throwing ourselves into needless danger?”

“It sets up really interesting conversation for the table,” he adds. “You’re down there to save a city. But there’s all kinds of temptations in hell.”

Dungeons and Dragons Descent Into Avernus
A special dice kit containing a map of Avernus will also be released with the release of 'Descent Into Avernus.'

“Diabolic Hot Rods”

One of the biggest features in Descent Into Avernus is vehicular combat. Spinning off from the ship mechanics introduced in Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Descent Into Avernus features thundering nightmares, “Infernal War Machines” that really sell what kind of wasteland players will find themselves in the new campaign.

In Avernus, Mearls says, the Blood War comes and goes like seasons. Sometimes the season is “hot” with battles everywhere, other times it’s “cold” where battle is limited to skirmishes. That’s when the Infernal War Machines come in.

“When the season recedes, you have all the ruins and wreckage of the battles, and scattered across Hell are these hellfire engines,” Mearls says. “You have scavengers. You have this post-apocalyptic wasteland. They’re pulling parts from destroyed hellfire engines and building their own diabolic hot rods, and using those to get around and fight each other. When the fighting increases back to a war season, they use them to escape.”

Lead Rules Designer Jeremy Crawford says the mechanics for the Infernal War Machines were “tweaked” from the vehicles in Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

“We have vehicle rules in Ghosts of Saltmarsh that we riff on in Descent Into Avernus and tweaked them a bit so you can ride around these Mad Max-style war machines,” he says. “We also give DMs a number of suggestions how to make adventuring hell appropriately horrible. We have rules for how the environment might mutate your character, rules for how hard it is to get a good night’s sleep if you try to sleep in hell. There are things that DMs will be able to use for adventuring even if they don’t use the story.”

The Setting: A New Plane

Kate Welch, one of the newest designers at Wizards of the Coast, said that much of Avernus is about exploring a new plane of existence that hadn’t yet been explored by players before.

“It’s all of Avernus,” she says. “We tried very hard to give you a new plane of existence to explore and experience what it’s like to be in hell, a plane that doesn’t follow the rules of a material plane in ways that are tremendously unpleasant. No one is happy. No one is having a good time.”

She adds, “The ‘Mad Max in Hell’ is a fraction of it.”

The Characters: Oh the NPCs You’ll Meet

You can’t have a Hell without souls, and Wizards of the Coast confirmed a few characters from D&D lore who will appear in Descent Into Avernus. These include Zariel, archdevil of the Nine Hells and ruler of Avernus, Kostchtchie, demon lord of frost giants, and Arkhan the Cruel, the dragonborn paladin of actor Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike).

“My first 5e [Fifth Edition] character, Arkhan the Cruel, appears as an NPC in the book with all of his minions and creatures,” Manganiello tells Inverse.

A lifelong Dungeons & Dragons fan who has become one of the hobby’s foremost celebrity enthusiasts, Manganiello says it’s “in-shock fun” to have one of his own creations make an official appearance in the game. 

“I worked with Max Dunbar, the comic book artist, tirelessly figuring out what Arkhan’s crew looks like,” he says. “There’s all these sketches and amazing drawings and then taking those drawings off to WhizKids and Gale Force. I would maybe quit what I do for a living to do that if I was asked.”

As for what and how Arkhan will be different in Descent Into Avernus, Manganiello only teased, “You’ll have to play the game to find out.”

Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus will be released on September 17.

Media via Wizards of the Coast