English version

The descent to hells, from Baldu’s Gate to Avernus, passing again through Candlekeep

Fabio Ciaramaglia

Dungeons & Dragons- Infernal Tides #5  - cover A

Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides, 1-5 (December 2019- August 2020)

In the miniseries Infernal Tides, our heroes leave again the city of Baldur’s Gate to face some adventures definitely over their own limits. The story, actually, begins in the city with a sudden attack of some infernal hordes against two Hellriders, Aubree and Alusair Lucent (daughter and father), that our protagonists try to help though they do not prevent the kidnapping of the latter. The plot, from now on, follows precisely the events of the manual Baldur’s Gate: Descent to Avernus, in which, leaving alone the setting descriptions, a proper Dungeons&Dragons campaign is introduced: basically it is as if we played a series of adventures in a proxy way having Minsc and his friends as protagonists. As a matter of fact, in the last pages of the paperback there are the characters’ sheets in case we wanted to run the adventure using them. However, for this reason, we need to have a digression.

All the events of this volume are a piece of a major narrative plot which is related to D&D, the so-called “Blood War”. This is a war which has been fought since before the dawn of time, before our dimension, the “Prime Material”, was fully shaped and it is between Devils and Demons. We cannot enter into the details of all the stages of this millenary struggle, what matters is that it is a fight between two opposite philosophies, that of the Devils who believe in spreading Evil in an ordered way, such as through infernal contracts, and that of Demons who spread Evil through mayhem and destruction: basically the former are Lawful Evil and the latter Chaotic Evil. Though most of this war is being fought in the borders of the hellish circles, and specifically in Avernus, it is not uncommon that some fights happen in the Prime Material with the involvement of wizards, sorcerers, clerics or whoever is in the capability and having a more or less serious reaason of summoning a devil or a demon. Avernus itself was originally created by archdevil Asmodeus as a sort of heaven on earth to tempt mortals, but eventually it was attacked by demons and it became the main battlefield of the Blood War.

As we said, this conflict sometimes overflows in Faerûn and in particular this happens in the whereabouts of the city of Elturel, where a group of specialised soldiers against infernal beings is created, the Hellriders, faithful to the god of justice and law Torm. As a side note we have to mention that Elturel is in a sort of cold war against Baldur’s Gate: as a matter of fact, if the former is a city wholly devoted to order and justice, the latter allows the worshipping of evil and chaotic gods too, and this is the main reason why on many geopolitical matters (trade or territorial expansion) they are on opposite sides. Yet Elturel has also other issues. Feeling overwhelmed by demons and devils, the Hellriders prayed for divine help which arrived in the shape of the angel Zariel, who offered herself as a leader to the final victory in Avernus. Actually Zariel followed her own agenda: though being forbidden to enter directly in the Blood War, her obsession led her to disobedience and, later, to her fall from grace. As a matter of fact the raid against Avernus ends in a very dramatic way, many Hellriders, led by Jander Sunstar (a character known by Ravenloft fans) flee the battle and close the portal behind them, others try to escape too but they are caught and crucified by the devil Haruman, and finally Zariel and her closer soldiers are forced to surrender. Asmodeus persuades her to pledge to him and, having been impressed by her military skills, turns her into a devil and tasks her the leadership in the Blood War. However Zariel has not forgotten the betrayal of the Hellriders, thus, patiently and strategically and using her newly found fiendish manipulative skills, elaborates a scheme to teleport the city of Elturel in Avernus. In the middle of an undead siege of the city, she presents herself, again, as a saviour of Elturel and persuades the leader of the Hellriders, Thavius Kreeg, to sign an infernal contract: in change of the help after fifty years the city will become part of Avernus. Actually Zariel has planned to teleport more cities into Avernus, and among which there is Baldur’s Gate too.

Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides - L'arrivo di Zariel
Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides – L’arrivo di Zariel. Immagine utilizzate solo a fini divulgativi © degli aventi diritti

The period of the deal is about to expire at the beginning of Infernal Tides and it is in this way our heroes are involved. After Alusair Lucent’s kidnapping, they decide to help Aubrey who explains them it is all related to a small box covered with infernal seals they were carrying. They then visit a demonologist, Freming Greer, who explains them the box contains something important related to the Blood War, but in the middle of the talk his laboratory is assaulted by infernal beings. Fremin is killed during the fight but shortly before dying he tells them to find more information in Candlekeep and he also gives them his familiar Beatrice, a tressym (a sort of winged cat), but eventually she reveals being a spy.

As we know, to enter that citadel it is compulsory donating a worthy book not included in its huge library. Delina decides to finalise her closure with her brother Deniak by offering his spellbook. After the entrance in Candlekeep not everything is solved though, because there is a long waiting list to be able to speak to the scholar Sylvira Savikas and they are running out of time. They are approached by another scholar, Marguerite, who offers them to cut the queue short, however with a twist they find out she is a devil in disguise. Having separated Minsc from the group, at first she tries to seduce him and then to fight him with the help of the tressym Beatrice: but Minsc is never truly alone and with the help of Boo he succeeds in defeating the two fiends. Not everything is bad in this because the commotion lures the interest of Sylvira who receives the group and helps them to open the infernal box they are carrying. Unfortunately the content is not particularly worthy, because it is just a copy of the contract between Thavius Kreeg and Zariel with all the details of the teleport of Elturel and its inhabitants into Avernus. This is exactly the moment when Aubrey begins being pulled into an infernal portal, but Delina casts a spell to protect her: however they are all teleported into Elturel.

The central part of the story, the third issue, is almost completely set in Avernus, though some parts are set in a floating Elturel which is invaded by devils while it is literally dragged down into the infernal flames. There are many fights and spectacular full or splash-page scenes. The group is split during the fight. In particular, Minsc and Nerys, in the attempt to fight one of the generals, Haruman, fall below in Avernus itself; Delina and Aubrey commit in the search of Alusair; Krydle and Shandie try to save how many citizens of Elturel as possible. In all this, Shandie is caught and trapped by some devils and they offer her life in change of the soul of Krydle. With a twist, another devil intrudes, Oreasha, who anyway offers another contract to Krydle. Oreasha works for general Bel, a rival of Zariel, who is planning to prevent her success, that is the absorption of Elturel into Avernus. Because of Krydle’s love for Shandie, but maybe also to pay back all the times she had saved him, he accepts the deal. In change, Oreasha explains him how to destroy the contract and thus stop Zariel’s plans, and she sends him to Thavius Kregg.

Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides 
 - Minsc che ha appena sconfitto un diavolo
Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides – Minsc che ha appena sconfitto un diavolo. Immagine utilizzate solo a fini divulgativi © degli aventi diritti

Nerys and Minsc, as we said, are in the middle of Avernus and they are rescued by the mechanic ship of the Bloodrovers, some pirates/rogues who salvage the riches of Avernus, be them materials or “soul coins”. Short digression: the soul coins are an infernal currency minted by sacrificing the soul of a living being and we find them also in Baldur’s Gate 3 (we shall speak of them later on). Hired on the run in the Bloodrovers, Minsc and Nerys help them to fight a huge devil, but during the fray they both fall in river Styx whose water has the power to completely erase memories. While Nerys wraps herself completely in her faith -as she did when she fought licanthropy- and manages to be untouched by the power of Styx river, Minsc is not as strong or lucky and has his memory erased.

Meanwhile the others manage to track down Thavius Kreeg and right on time when he is about to speak the last words which should mark the beginning of the infernal contract validity. In the fight they manage to steal the document but they are not able to destroy it. Reached also by Minsc and Nerys, the whole group meets finally Zariel who arrives in this last part of her plan. Krydle taunts her and the devil, in the attempt to kill him, destroys the contract. Acknowledging her own defeat, Zariel retreats shortly after having appeared to Aubrey in her former visage of an angel. Elturel is finally taken back on the Prime Material. The open ending is on Krydle who is aware that despite having saved Shandie and the city of Elturel, sooner or later will have to pay back Oreasha, and he is reminded of that by the infernal symbols tattooed on his arm.

This storyline is rather thick, though, as we said, the plot follows step by step the events described in the adventure of Descent to Avernus. That volume is clearly useful to understand some of the story dynamics but as usual Zub is rather skilled in providing everything which is needed to understand the story in the textboxes and the dialogues even without any previous lore. The development of the characters keeps on, with reminders also to the previous stories, and we have a further proof of the deep friendship between Krydle and Shandie, with the sacrifice of the former in the matter related to the infernal contract -which is fundamental for the conclusion of all the whole storyline in the next volume Mindbreaker. Delina keeps with her path of assertiveness of her identity, often even being pro-active, and, as we said, finally closing her story with her brother, by giving away his spellbook, that is his last memento. Nerys shows her deep faith once again by resisting the oblivious powers of river Styx: furthermore there is also a development of a strong bond of friendship with Minsc, who, on the other hand, has been brainwashed and so she tries to help him to recover not just his memories but also his heroic attitude.

Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides - Minsc che ha appena perso la memoria.
Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides – Minsc che ha appena perso la memoria. Immagine utilizzate solo a fini divulgativi © degli aventi diritti

This story, with Descent to Avernus, provides part of the background of the video game Baldur’s Gate 3.

As we shall see in the analysis of the game, there are several infernal beings involved (Raphael and Mizora) and some of the companions have had a role in the Blood War (Karlach) or they have deals with them (Wyll) and most of their actions anyway refer to Zariel. So, despite it is not strictly needed, a previous reading of Infernal Tides and Descent to Avernus can provide us further interpretations of what happens in the game and also help us in the multiple choices. With hindsight I need to state that the multiple choices related to these characters are among the most challenging and complex to make during the whole gameplay. Another interesting element which links the two volumes to the game is Elturel: in the comics the city is taken back on Prime Material, while in the adventure it is also possible this attempt fails. Either way a first consequence is the hundred profugees who escape Elturel and who, mostly, look for shelter in the nearby Baldur’s Gate. Most of these profugees are tieflings, banned from Elturel because they are visually way too similar to fiends and remind the people about the dangers of Avernus: this explains the actual, and somehow weird, big amount of tieflings in the game Baldur’s Gate 3, both in the first chapters (the meeting with the profugees) and in the city itself. We want also to evidence the presence of Ulder Ravengard (Wyll’s father) is diplomatic mission to Elturel: we shall deal with him in BG3 while he is trying to go back to Baldur’s Gate, as his absence from the city has strong political consequences.

Despite the strong links with the third game, however, as we have tried to stress, this story has its own independent worth, which is also related to the wider storyline of Minsc and his friends. From many points of view this is probably the focus story of the saga and maybe it is not a random chance that Max Dunbar comes back for the drawings (in the previous volumes he was involved only in the cover art), always skilled in the splash-pages, and who traces back the visual representation of the characters to the same we had seen in the first issues. Grown and mature and more and more working at best as a group, our heroes have again escaped victorious from their adventure, but this time paying a high cost, whose consequences will be clearer in the finale of their saga, which we will deal with in next article on the storyline Mindbreaker.

Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides - Zariel ricordata come angelo.
Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides – Zariel ricordata come angelo. Immagine utilizzate solo a fini divulgativi © degli aventi diritti

Further readings

Jim Zub (story), Max Dunbar (art), Dungeons & Dragons: Infernal Tides, 1-5 (December 2019- August 2020), IDW. The story was collected in a paperback with the same title in February 2021, always by IDW.

A.A.V.V., Baldur’s Gate: Descent to Avernus, September 2019, Wizards of the Coast.

As a side note we highlight that from page 10 to page 70 there are very interesting pieces of lore related to the setting and on the cities of Baldur’s Gate, Elturel and Candlekeep.

end of article 16

Biography

FABIO CIARAMAGLIA

With an M.A. degree in English Literature, with a dissertation on Shakespeare and comics (2000) and a Ph.D. with a dissertation on Shakespeare and Italian TV (2004), I have always tried to deal with the complex relationship between literature and other media.

I have written for comics magazines, such as Fumo di China and Fumettomania (in its previous printed version), but also translated into Italian a couple of American comics for the publisher Magic Press and some poems. Meanwhile I have begun teaching English language at High School, at first in Rome and then, after 2015, in Trieste.

I have never lost the nerdy attitude even as a teacher, but since 2006 videogames have attracted me more and in some of them, maybe for a personal inclination, I have found several elements which are worth of being analysed, though before this year I had never dared approaching more seriously.


NOTE EXTRA

Elenco articoli dello speciale Dungeons&Dragons 50th Anniversary:

16 marzo 2024 (15)

9 marzo 2024 (14)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-una-digressione-una-prima-eredita-dei-due-baldurs-gate/

24 febbraio 2024 (13)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-fumetti-benvenuti-nel-profondo-nord-di-faerun/

10 febbraio 2024 (12)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-fumetti-shadows-of-the-vampire-le-ombre-del-vampiro/

3 febbraio 2024 (11)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/baldurs-gate-vuol-dire-leggenda-il-ciclo-legends-of-baldurs-gate/

27 gennaio 2024 (10)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-la-trama-principale-di-baldurs-gate-ii-e-alcuni-cenni-sui-companion

6 gennaio 2024 (09)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-la-trama-principale-di-baldurs-gate-e-del-dlc-siege-of-dragonspear/

22 dicembre 2023 (08)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-introduzione-ai-principali-elementi-narrativi-alla-base-dei-primi-due-baldurs-gate

5 dicembre 2023 (07)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-il-viaggio-venticiquennale-di-baldurs-gate/

18 novembre 2023 (06)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeonsdragons-50th-anniversary-tutte-le-strade-passano-da-baldurs-gate/

9 ottobre 2023 (05)

4 agosto 2023 (04)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/la-genesi-del-gruppo-dei-ladri-donore-anteprima-dungeons-dragons-4a-puntata/

7 luglio 2023 (03)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeons-dragons-50th-anniversary-il-passato-di-doric-in-the-druids-call/

23 maggio 2023 (02)

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/dungeons-dragon-introduzione-ai-personaggi-principali-del-film-honor-among-thieves-the-feast-of-the-moon/

ed il 26 marzo 2023 (01)


Dal 30 dicembre 2022 stiamo pubblicando un interessantissimo approfondimento di fabio dedicato a

Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider, dai videogiochi ad altri media (fumetti, cartoni, film)

ecco l’articolo più recente, del 10 maggio

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/tomb-rider-approccio-al-ciclo-conclusivo-di-dan-jurgens/

ed il link della Prima puntata del 30 dicembre 2022


Infine, nel 2022, Fabio ha pubblicato il lungo ed interessantissimo approfondimento dedicato a “DRAGON AGE dal videogame ai fumetti!“.

Sotto riportiamo l’ultimo articolo (il 27°) pubblicato da Fabio del 28 dicembre 2022

ed ecco la PAGINA DEL SITO DEDICATA A FUMETTI E VIDEOGIOCHI

https://www.fumettomaniafactory.net/video-giochi-e-fumetti/

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