If you're a fan of TTRPG battles with miniatures and maps, then chances are you are familiar with Steamforged Games' Epic Encounters boxes. These are fully made Dungeons and Dragons 5e combat encounters in a box complete with maps and unique monsters to fight. As mentioned in our general preview, the contents of these boxes are designed in a way to be seamlessly integrated into just about any pre-existing campaign if the adventure is in need of high-stakes action. That kind of design focus has continued with Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler.
Please note that this review will go into detail about the contents of these Epic Encounters boxes. This will include photos of the miniatures and analysis about the various monsters' statblocks. Read at your own discretion.
What Is In Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin?
First, we'll examine the warband box: Hive of the Ghoul-kin. As the name implies, this Epic Encounters box is all about your adventuring party dealing with a horrific collective of necrotic monsters. This is an understandable since battling shambling hordes are as common an enemy as goblins, orcs, or giants. The creatures contained within are the following:
- 8 Ghoul-kin Reavers
- 2 Ghoul-kin Stalkers
- 2 Ghoul-kin Hive Wardens riding Corpse Crawlers
- 2 Ghoul-kin Bulwarks
- 1 Ghoul-kin Broodsire
There is a bit of pedantry about what exactly differentiates Hive of the Ghoul-kin from another Epic Encounters box: The Arena of the Undead Horde. Part of this is a matter of location. Hive of the Ghoul-kin's featured double-sided map depicts dark dungeons full of acid pits and twisted laboratory equipment, something that could easily have been an ancient tomb or the horrible workshop of a madman. This gives the entire encounter an air of dark fantasy with a diseased aesthetic based in rot, infestation, and mutation. Arena of the Undead meanwhile takes place in an abandoned battle arena somewhere in a forgotten city, with the zombies brought back by the whims of a sadistic necromancer; a more heavy-metal take on Jason and The Argonauts. Both are awesome in their own right, but when it comes to what kind of undead you want to throw at your party, know that the devil is in the details.
How Does Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin Play?
As for those details, Hive of the Ghoul-kin manages to introduce a few interesting twists that will surprise players. The Ghoul-kin are described as being part of a hive mind, controlled by a Broodsire which is the boss battle at the end of the module. But, this also means they can move and fight more tactically than just some mindless piles of bones. This is great in the context of the box since it means that, in addition to the recommended enemy placements, the DM can remix and target adventurers as they see fit, replicating a constantly thinking and adapting collective.
Finally, there is an element of escalating randomness. Every single time certain Ghoul-kin are killed one of two things will happen. First, a new one will appear somewhere on the map to replace the destroyed one. Second, you roll on a chart to determine if something harmful erupts from the body. This can be damaging acid, sticky refuse that results in difficult terrain, or even another Ghoul-kin enemy.
When taken into this context, there is a lot of diverse enemy configurations you can get out of these creatures. The exact specifics of Hive of the Ghoul-kin are, by design, left broad and vague for you to play around with when it comes to narrative and set-up. However, in terms of statblocks, there are some standouts.
The footsoldier Reavers can inflict the paralysis condition every time they attack, so a hoard of them ganging up on the group's tank can lead to some harrowing damage. The Stalkers are even more aggressive versions of the Reavers, which makes them great for higher level parties or for capitalizing on paralyzed party members. The Hive Wardens are more tactical mounted fighters meant to push and shove characters into traps and environmental terrain which keeps combat dynamic and interesting. The Bulwarks are tough, regenerating brutes that can keep more dedicated powerhouses like Barbarians in check with nasty multiattacks. Finally, the Broodsire is a very effective final challenge with magical resistance, n close-proximity fear effect, as well as a built-in “red shirt” ability where nearby Ghoul-kin will just take hits for him.
What Is In Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler?
Next up is the boss box. This is basically a sister box to Hive of the Ghoul-kin where your party ventures further into the depths and try to kill the horrific intelligence behind the Ghoul-kin collective. Much like other boss boxes, it contains a single miniature, a giant Corpse Crawler, a set of eight cardboard tokens representing more Ghoul-kin units, and a new double-sided map.
Much like the warband boxes, Barrow of the Corpse Crawler does contain suggestions for the behavior and tactics of the monster. And on the surface, the Corpse Crawler is just a straightforward giant worm fight: aggressive, large, and fast.
But Steamforged Games did add in some much appreciated wrinkles. In addition to an aggressive flowchart of actions the Corpse Crawler can take depending on the party's tactics, there are environmental hazards as well as Lair Actions and Cinematic Actions the boss can take. These include summoning more Ghoul-kin to the fight to split the party's focus, dropping dirt and debris from the ceiling to slow down melee fighters as well as eat into the precious action economy, or even just removing players from the encounter entirely by eating them. It can also burrow, breaking line of sight for long-range attackers and making it harder to hit. Finally, the Corpse Crawler doesn't rely on sight, a major staple of certain D&D monsters, but s a heightened sense of smell. If you have illusionists in the group, they might need to get more creative.
This boss battle could have very easily turned into a boring tank that just hits really hard, but with these tactics and environmental challenges peppered throughout, it pushes this battle one step beyond.
Should I Buy Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler?
Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler continue Steamforged Games' high standards of quality, both with their miniatures and their complex scenario designs. If you need a more diseased and gross take on undead monsters, one that can easily be mixed and matched into different configurations and encounters, then I highly recommend both of these boxes.
Both Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler used for this review were provided by Steamforged Games.