Avernus. In times long forgotten, this war-scarred wasteland was a realm of grandeur and opulence. Creatures from all over the planes traded in its marketplaces, and cities to rival even the Iron City of Dis loomed above the land. This layer of the Nine Hells was a gilded paradise; a glamorous trap designed by Asmodeus, Lord of the Hells, to lure corruptible souls into his grasp. Scratch the surface, and any planar traveler could see that all of its majesty was built upon the suffering of the innumerable souls of the damned. Avernus, despite everything, was still a layer of the Hells; an authoritarian paradise ruled by beings of absolute law and evil.
But that was long ago. The gilt and glamor that once shrouded the true nature of Avernus has long since been stripped away by untold eons of war and betrayal, leaving only a blasted battlefield cleft in twain by the bloody waters of the River Styx. Watchtowers and citadels loom over the landscape, a grim shadow of the splendid cities of old, and heinous infernal war machines blaze across the wastes, kicking up clouds of crimson dust in their wake.
Welcome to Avernus. Welcome to the front lines of the Blood War.
The Archduchess Zariel
Avernus is ruled by a ruthless warmonger known as Zariel. This archdevil of the first layer is aided in her endless war against the demons of the Abyss by her lieutenant, Bel, one of the greatest military minds to ever serve in the armies of the Nine Hells. Zariel leads her armies from the front, wielding her incredible power with abandon. She cares not that the Blood War has ravaged her domain, and she doesn’t balk at the danger she puts herself in by fighting on the only plane where her defeat means her permanent destruction. No matter how fierce the battle on Avernus rages, Zariel can almost always be found at its heart, cutting a swath of destruction through the demonic horde.
Zariel is no politician, and she has no interest in the scheming of the other archdevils of the Nine Hells. Asmodeus granted her the power to smite demons for eternity, and that is all she cares to do—or so she says. If Zariel has any hidden sorrows or desires, they are unknown to even the canniest devils of the Hells. Other devils constantly plot against her, seeking to usurp her command of Avernus, but none dare attempt a coup without proper support. Any weakness in the bulwark that is Avernus, even for an instant, could be seen as an opening. If Zariel were deposed, there is no doubt that Yeenoghu or another demon lord would burst in through the Styx and claim Avernus for his own.
Zariel is villain with depth. Her story is one of incredible ambition and a staggering fall from grace. Her history is described briefly in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, but Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus will be the story to truly delve into the murky depths of her tragic past. Check back tomorrow for more on Zariel.
Animated by Meagan Kenreck (@meagankenrekt)
Ravaged by War Unending
The River Styx is a river that weaves through the Lower Planes like blood vessels suffuse the human body, carrying souls and fiends throughout the Abyss and the Nine Hells. Demons prowl the Styx for ways into the Hells, and devils constantly search its banks for new avenues of assault into the Abyss. Meanwhile, neutral fiends known as yugoloths watch the Blood War from afar, ready to offer their services to the highest bidder.
One day, however, the Styx changed course. Its stygian waters burst through the planar bounds of Avernus and cut a swathe of destruction through the still-beautiful realm, carrying with it demons by the untold thousands. In an instant, the magnificent paradise of Avernus became the front lines of the Blood War—and Zariel couldn’t be happier. Over the ages, Avernus has become a wasteland covered in lifeless dust, choking fumes, and the ruins of long-lost grandeur. Zariel fights constantly upon her battlefield-realm, leading her armies from the front and relishing in her paradise of eternal war against chaos and evil.
Mortals rarely travel to Avernus these days, but those who do are greeted by an endless expanse of desert and brimstone, broken up only by the dust clouds kicked up by armies mounted atop infernal war machines and hellfire engines, and the occasional citadel. Why would a mortal ever travel to Avernus? Perhaps against their own will—or on a mission of true justice. Mortals be warned, however. Those who brave the Nine Hells possessed of just hearts rarely leave without straying from their path.
Descent into Avernus
The next Dungeons & Dragons storyline is Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. In this story, the holy city of Elturel is, for reasons unknown, dragged from the surface of Faerûn into the sulfurous depths of Avernus. Though this story begins in the great city of Baldur’s Gate, the adventurers are swept into a tale of justice and depravity, and through their actions, may decide the fate of the Multiverse.
Adventurers beware; devils love nothing so much as they love preying upon the souls of weak-willed mortals. Those who believe in justice will be tempted to sacrifice their ideals for easy solutions, and those who already lack scruples will find that anything is available in Avernus—for the right price.
You can preorder Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus on the D&D Beyond Marketplace!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their hellcats Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.