Short-circuiting Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus

We tried to be normal, to be good players. It didn't work.

This was originally published on .

I started playing D&D about five years ago (dang close to the day, in fact) and here's our campaign stats, to the best of my pandemic-clouded recollection:

  • 6 DMs and 12-ish players over 5 years
  • Started 9 campaigns
  • Completed 6 campaigns
  • Of those completed, 2 were done "by the book"

I believe that with a 1/3 accuracy, our table can be officially categorized as Campaign Breakers™, and I'd like to tell you about our latest trophy... short-circuiting Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus.

The People and the Place

Picture it. Baldur's Gate. The year was...a number. Five adventurers somehow ended up trying to save a city that was literally dragged into Hell. If you want to know more about the story, I point you to the official text because that's not why we're here.

Our adventuring party for this campaign was comprised of a rogue, a blood hunter, a barbarian, a paladin, and a wizard. And as of this week, our characters were all level 10, and I feel like we were maybe a good 4-6 sessions from finishing the whole endeavor.

As far as fantasy aesthetics go, this. campaign. is. heavily. my. shtick: you're in one of the nine hells, caught in the middle of the Blood War between devils and demons, with the objective of defeating a fallen angel who has been made the ruler of this realm.

Now, as for the campaign itself? It was very much a waterfall chart of object tasks: ok, first go get ITEM 1; lovely, now go get ITEM 2; great, now go meet NPC 1 and they'll task you to retrieve ITEM 3, and so on. If this were a real-world game, it would be bumper bowling. We've been playing it since last fall, and over time, it wears on you. Unless this structure is your thing, in which case I support you and your choices and wish you well.

For our table, it was laborious. We tend to skew toward campaigns that are little more open-ended, or at least more open-world, where there isn't a doomsday clock running.

But going back to our table's history, we have never accepted a campaign as a definitive set of rules.

Enter: The Campaign Breakers

Last night, we'd just finished a meeting with... someone1. And we were headed back to our car (yeah), when our DM gently guided us into an cinematic encounter where we'd meet Zariel, the Big Bad, mostly for narrative flair but also as a preview of the big fight that was a few weeks away.

Classic mistake. Never let this table meet a Big Bad and expect us to walk away.

The wizard was first up and started the fight. After a few turns, the rest of the party arrived and rolled initiative. I didn't write the order down, but if memory serves, Zariel was in the middle of the rotation. I moved my barbarian right to her feet (she's huge) and started swinging my axe and letting the Hell Hound I adopted by accident bite her ankles.

It's important to note that my barbarian build took the Path of the Wild Spirit, which means that any time they entered a rage, I had to roll a d8 to determine what random magical effect happened as the rage began. This time, I rolled an 8, which caused a line of bright light to burst from the barbarian's chest and force anyone in its path to make a constitution saving throw or take 2d8 radiant damage and be blinded until the start of my next turn.

The DC was a 16 for this. And Zariel rolled a 2.

There were several other attacks at this point, all at advantage due to Zariel being blinded, but the encounter took a hard turn when one of the players realized that the fancy obsidian sword he picked up a session or two prior was better used by a paladin, so he threw it to our party's paladin and pretty much said "HAVE FUN."

The paladin's turn came up, and with his three attacks, he rained all kinds of damage on Zariel, overwhelming her with radiant damage which cancelled out her auto-healing ability.

Our DM had a plan for this: if Zariel's hit points reached a certain threshold, Zariel would just teleport away, ending the encounter and preserving the campaign narrative. BUT WHY WOULD WE LET HER DO THAT?

The wizard immediately cast counterspell, which ended the teleportation. No big deal, because the DM had a secondary exit set up, where Zariel would walk into a column of green fire and disappear.

I smiled.

Zariel was surrounded by at least five PCs, and walking away from someone in an encounter triggers an attack of opportunity from anyone near you.

Our DM was visibly shook.

We started from the 12-o'clock position, working counter clockwise. An NPC got a hit, the paladin hit again, and then it was my barbarian's turn.

Watching everyone's camera feeds in Discord, I think one other person in the group knew what was coming: my barbarian had taken the Sentinel feat, one of the parts of which is that, if they hit an opponent during an opportunity attack, that opponent's movement speed is zero until the start of the the player's next turn. Regardless of how much damage they receive in that attack, they cannot move.

Zariel was effectively paralyzed.

After my second attack, our DM sank his face into his hands, paused, and asked "...so how do you want to do this?"

Through a mix of teamwork, good leveling choices, and obscenely high dice rolls, our ragtag group was able to circumvent WEEKS of map-slogging and defeated the Big Bad on a whim. I feel like a lot of my recollection focused on what my character did, and I'm probably forgetting something, but it was truly a group effort:

  • The wizard set things in motion by getting to the encounter early and deciding "Nah, we're taking this BB off the board tonight"
  • The blood hunter realized his fancy weapon was even fancier if someone else wielded it
  • The paladin took Zariel's hit points down by >100 in one turn
  • The rogue, the blood hunter, and the barbarian dealing as much damage as possible

It was even better because afterward, no one felt slighted. It was fun for everyone, and we could all sit back and laugh at how absurd it was that we short-circuited yet another campaign, and this time, we did it without reality-altering spells like Wish.

Our next session will be the epilogue to the campaign, and we'll start a Wildemount-based campaign in the next week or so.

Wildemount will be more open-world than railroading, but if there's a way to break it, we will find it.

Footnotes

  1. They had a name, and they were part of the narrative, but I do not remember this part of the session. I was busy eating snacks with my microphone on mute.