How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler

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Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 25

Having successfully defeated the Ghoul-kin Brood-Sire in his lair, our intrepid group of D&D playtesters graduate from the Hive of the Ghoul-kin Epic Encounters box to the next part of their adventure: a delve into the Barrow of the Corpse Crawler. What will they find within?

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How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler – Introduction

We’re back with another hands-on playtest, this time taking a look at Steamforged Games’ latest Epic Encounters Boss Box: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Unboxing 1

Steamforged Games’ Epic Encounters sets are designed to give your Dungeons and Dragons sessions that little bit of extra pow. As we’ve seen in our full review of Barrow of the Corpse Crawler, the contents of this box are great. The massive miniature is seriously impressive, and the other resources provided to help you run your D&D session certainly seem to look the part.

So, this begs the question: what is Barrow of the Corpse Crawler like to use in a D&D session? As we’ve seen in our review of the box’s contents, the quality of the miniature, the maps, and the campaign booklet is certainly of the highest quality – but being a Dungeon Master/Game Master (henceforth DM/GM) requires a lot, both from a DM/GM and also from whatever resources they bring to the table. Does the Barrow of the Corpse Crawler box make running a session easier for a DM/GM, and does it help keep players engaged, providing plenty of visual aides to keep all eyes on the table?

If you haven’t done so already, check out the other entries in this series and see how our group fared in the Arena of the Undead Horde, battling through the Tower of the Lich Empress, and exploring the Hive of the Ghoul-kin.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler – The Team

We’ve had a little bit of a change-up with our D&Ders this session. Unfortunately, the party’s ever-useful wizard, Rich, was unable to make the session due to other commitments. He was instead replaced by Ed, the Rock Gnome Ranger.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 7

So, from left to right we have Ed the Rock Gnome Ranger, Aarakocra Rogue Lizzie, DM/GM Rob, Wood Elf Druid Dave and Ollie the Dwarf Barbarian.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler – The Venue

If the big, yellow-framed logo in the image above wasn’t an enormous giveaway, as ever we’re back at Norwich’s finest gaming venue, The Games Table.

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A home for any and all board game, wargame, or TTRPG enthusiasts no matter how casual or serious you are, The Games Table is a haven for any itinerant gamer looking for somewhere to set up shop and spin dice for a few hours.

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How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Playtesting The Venue 1

Oh, and as you can see in the image above, dogs are also welcome.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler – Playtesting

As we have said previously, there are a couple of steps to a D&D session. Before everyone can sit at a table (or in a Discord server, or however it is you run your game) and roll dice, someone has to actually figure out what’s supposed to happen during that session. This responsibility falls to the Dungeon Master or Game Master (DM/GM, whichever is your preferred term).

Then, once the DM/GM has prepared (however extensively or otherwise they like to) everyone can actually play the game. As such, a resource like an Epic Encounters box has to be useful for a DM, and fun for players.

Playtesting – Set Up

Setting up for any D&D session tends to come in two parts. The first takes place before the session, where the DM/GM figures out their encounter, and the second takes place on the day, when the DM/GM gets all their stuff ready for play.

I. Pre-Session

This is the fourth Epic Encounters box we’ve used, and in my opinion (as the DM/GM running the session), Barrow of the Corpse Crawler was the easiest to slot into our existing campaign narrative.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Campaign Book 1

The session simply takes place in a barrow: an underground chamber in which someone is buried. There are a few prompts suggested in the campaign book as to how your players may end up there, but given that our players were coming into this session straight off the back of Hive of the Ghoul-kin – which was set in a crypt – joining the two together was a simple case of creating a passageway between two chambers.

That was it.

I’m a classic overthinker when it comes to D&D prep. I’m the kind of DM/GM who can’t create anything in a setting without establishing a thousand years of lore associated with it. The castle can’t just be a castle, oh no; it’s known as Cleftmaw Keep and was originally constructed by Duke So-and-So in the Tenth Year of the Second Era. It was besieged by Count Whatsisname in…yadda-yadda, you get the idea.

So, as someone who creates campaign notes to a near-obsessive level, I found I had to do barely any prep to justify the appearance of the Corpse Crawler’s barrow in our existing campaign. The seamlessness with which Barrow of the Corpse Crawler connects to Hive of the Ghoul-kin exemplifies just how modular and easy-to-insert into a campaign that these boxes are.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Campaign Book 4

That the encounter does take place in a subterranean burial site makes it so easy to slot into just about any campaign – D&D campaigns love graveyards and other spooky places – and that the Corpse Crawler’s prerogative is to eat dead bodies, there’s no need to justify why it’s handing around a place where there are corpses. It’s just there ‘cos, well, where else is it gonna be? This makes Barrow of the Corpse Crawler such an easy thing to slide into your D&D session.

II. On the Day

Barrow of the Corpse Crawler actually comes in a relatively large box (it’s about twice as thick as Hive of the Ghoul-kin). This is because the miniature inside is so massive. As such, it’s not an easy thing to conceal behind a DM/GM screen, and might need to be hidden on a floor or under a chair to keep it out of sight of your players.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 31

That said, the campaign booklet, which contains all the info you need to run the encounter, is nicely pocket-sized, so won’t take up too much room next to any other books or notes you may have (or, in my case, a dice tray overflowing with dice – our players keep a shockingly low count of dice between them so frequently need more – a box of Tabletop Condition Rings courtesy of Imitate3D, and a cheeky pint).

Playtesting – Playing the Encounter

With the encounter ready to go, our players assembled, and their new party member up to speed with what had been going on (well, in truth, they actually found him as a prisoner in the Brood-sire’s laboratory), we were ready to begin the encounter. What would our players make of the latest offering of Epic Encounter goodies?

I. Out of the Frying Pan…

Our previous session ended with the group coming out of a pretty nasty scrap with the Ghoul-kin Brood-sire feeling a bit worse-for-wear. This meanie gave them a good hiding before they were able to beat back his endless horde of minions and lay him low. As such, everyone was feeling a bit sensitive – aside from Ed, who wasn’t a part of the last session who’d been safely imprisoned in the gunk around the edge of the Brood-Sire’s demesne.

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As I said earlier, all I had to do to get my players from the battle with the Ghoul-kin Brood-sire to the chamber where they would face off against the Corpse Crawler was create a corridor and make it suitably enticing (or make the floor collapse and just give them no choice in the matter, which was my backup plan).

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 2

Still, to remind them of the stakes, we briefly returned to Hive of the Ghoul-kin Epic Encounters box and interrupted the players’ long rest with a visit from a particularly upset Ghoul-kin Bulwark.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 10
Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 8

With everyone reminded that there are still plenty of nasties creeping around, they finished up their long rest and began to unwittingly make their way towards the Barrow of the Corpse Crawler.

II. …And Into the Fire

Long rest finished up, it was time for the players to leave the Brood-Sire’s Demesne.

On the far side of the chamber is a heavy crypt door, slightly ajar, and beyond it a set of steps leading upwards. There is the faintest glimmer of light at the end of it – not weak, anaemic torchlight like that which fills the rest of the Ghoul-kin’s hive, but starlight: distant, faint. The world above beckons – not the ink-black, storm-scarred sky of the Old Kingdom, but the clear heavens of the rest of the world.

Barrow of the Corpse Crawler takes place in a, er, barrow. There’s no impetus provided in the campaign booklet as to why the players need to be there – this needs to come from the DM. Some suggestions are made – the usual, looking for treasure, secrets and so-on – but your players’ reason for being in the Barrow of the Corpse Crawler is left up to you.

In our case, the group ended up there due to intrigue.

As you are heading up the steps, something catches your eye. Off to one side, away from the long, ancient stone steps that appear to be leading you towards an exit, you see another tunnel off to one side, far older and more ancient than the first, its entryway heralded by an archway carved with ancient runes and script. There is the faintest light coming from the end of the hallway – but no sound.

Recognising that the off-shooting chamber could be another area filled with treasure, the group could not help themselves. They had to take a peek.

And peek they did. In doing so, they woke up this chap.

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It’s more of a comment on how tough a fight he was, but my players had been thinking that the Ghoul-kin Brood-Sire might be the big baddie associated with the Hive of the Ghoul-kin box, the same way Tower of the Lich Empress is the Boss Box to Arena of the Undead Horde. As such, when they found themselves face-to-face with a monstrous, flesh-eating worm, they were a little taken aback.

I am pleased to report, however, that the big reveal – slamming the mini down in front of the party – elicited the desired reaction from our players. Jaws dropped, eyes widened, and everyone’s attention was immediately glued to the table. This is exactly what you want from one of these minis: they look sublime, towering over the party, mean and menacing. They really bring the board to life.

The players began the encounter confidently, rushing to engage the monster – well, most of the party. To the abject horror of the party, Lizzie’s Aarakocra rogue decided to break into the tomb in the centre of the chamber and swipe the enormous pile of loot within for herself. Whilst she ultimately did decide to stay for the fight instead of booking it with the loot, as of the end of the session she still hasn’t distributed the substantial amount of treasure she found…

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However, after a round of combat, the players realised they were going to have to be clever. Our players are adventuring at level 10. As such, we use the High Tier stats suggested for the Corpse Crawler. With a whopping AC of 24 and a devastating array of abilities, the Corpse Crawler was by far the hardest fight the group has had to date. The sheer beef of the Corpse Crawler, with its massive AC and high physical statistics, put the comparatively squishy Lich Empress (who the group made comparatively short work of) to shame.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 16
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In order to really amp up the encounter, I followed the Corpse Crawler’s recommended attack pattern for the encounter as best as I could, making allowances to respond to player actions around it. As a DM/GM, I found the Corpse Crawler’s attack pattern to be excellent: everything is a bit different, and whilst it has no “nice” abilities, some of its moves are slightly less devastating than others. It’s a complex foe, capable of summoning reinforcements, swallowing players, spitting acid, and just chewing people to mulch.

Every time the round passed back to the Corpse Crawler, there was a real trepidation amongst the players as to what would come next: would it be another eviscerating multi-attack (which dropped Dave by about 70hp in a single turn), or would Ed, at the back of the room with his bow, suddenly become the target of an acidic spit attack? Players had to think about their positioning, their strengths, their weakness, and what everyone else was doing. The Corpse Crawler encourages communication and synergy in a group.

Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Campaign Book 6

One feature of the campaign books that our players haven’t been so great at exploiting previously are the suggested environmental features in each encounter. There are several suggested environmental factors to consider during the fight as well: the crumbling roof and the broken floor being two. The gargantuan Corpse Crawler has damaged the structural integrity of the tomb with its endless slithering and devouring, and as such the arena is falling to pieces. These inclusions are designed to really up the tension – and force the players to consider their positioning carefully. With an enforced Acrobatics save every 20 feet travelled across the broken, jagged floor, every Disengage or relocation became a potential trip hazard.

For her sins, and in spite of an impressive DEX score (and the ability to, you know, fly), Lizzie’s Aarakocra would time and time again fall foul to the uneven, crumbling floor, and spend a lot of the encounter prone.

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Epic Encounters Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Testing 11

(And yes, she did deliberately colour co-ordinate her wardrobe, her choice of dice colour, her dice tray, and her character sheet on D&D Beyond to the colours of her miniature, which earned her an inspiration dice.)

There are other environmental factors suggested, too. This time, realising the Corpse Crawler was a tough as it was, the players toppled one of the crumbling states standing stoically over the entryway to the barrow onto the Corpse Crawler, pinning it for three turns. This is something the campaign booklet urges DMs/GMs to allow players to do, and helps add suitably exciting moments to the encounter and break up the usual run of combat.

It was in the midst of this, just as the players thought they had found an advantage, that a pack of Ghoul-kin Ravagers joined the fray. The players, thinking they previously had some respite, suddenly found themselves ambushed by half a dozen gnashing, slashing monsters. As mentioned above, the Corpse Crawler’s abilities, whilst not magical, are varied and unpredictable. It has many abilities to keep the party off-balance, to break them up, or to simply scoop one of them up and eat them.

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Which happened twice, in fact.

This is a challenging fight – a truly epic encounter that with every turn reminded the players that, perhaps, they might not make it out alive. At several points, things looked bleak: with Ollie the barbarian was subjected to being swallowed both times, and Dave the druid was reduced to 0 HP twice – first time when the Corpse Crawler ran him over, and the second time when the creature died and promptly burst open.

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In total, the fight took the players around two-and-a-half hours with a couple of breaks for refreshment throughout. At no point did the fight feel poorly paced, and the time flew by. The Corpse Crawler is a terrifying – and extremely fun – foe for a party to face off against. It’s an impressive monster, both as a miniature and as an enemy, with a devastating array of abilities to keep players on the edges of their seats.

How to Play Epic Encounters: Barrow of the Corpse Crawler – Summary

There’s a lot to unpack here as to why Barrow of the Corpse Crawler is an awesome boss fight for your players.

The thing Barrow of the Corpse Crawler does best is it forces players to be engaged. An encounter of this magnitude, of this gravity, makes your players switch themselves on and gets them interested – both with what’s going on atop the table and with their characters.

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First off, this is achieved via the physical stuff in the box. The visual aspects provided by the map and the minis help ensure that eyes are on the table at all times – players will want to be involved in what’s going on because it looks really cool. This is excellent if you’ve got a quiet or introverted group, as players will be interested in what’s happening simply because it all looks cool on the table.

Secondly, it’s hard. The Corpse Crawler is a really nasty foe. As our players discovered at the very start of the fight when they all valiantly rushed up to it to swing their swords, their axes, and their daggers, they did little to no damage thanks to the foe’s titanic AC. Even when they did scratch a few notches into the creature, these were damage values in single- or just poking into double-digits. The Corpse Crawler’s HP at Higher Tier is into the several of hundreds. Again, players have to be smart in order to stand a chance against it.

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Thirdly, there’s loads going on. The collapsing chamber, the sarcophagus full of loot, the floor giving out beneath their feet, the swaying statues ready to fall at any moment. The encounter encourages creativity, it supports players doing more with their characters and themselves making epic moments. Lizzie’s Aarakocra rogue flying up to land on the statue and give it the final kick it needed to topple onto the Crawler elicited cheers from everyone present and was a high-point of the session, as was when Ed, minus a melee weapon, grabbed a slab of masonry from the floor and stoved in a Ghoul-kin Ravager’s head with it.

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Of the four Epic Encounters sets we’ve reviewed so far, Barrow of the Corpse Crawler is definitely the most epic. A titanic miniature with a devastating array of abilities, an exciting an unpredictable boss, all set in a collapsing barrow – this is the stuff Dark Souls bosses are made of. Perhaps that’s the best thing to liken it to.

I really can’t stress it enough: the Corpse Crawler is mean. Whilst the Lich Empress was a worthy and challenging opponent, the Corpse Crawler was something else entirely. This mountain of rotten meat, spines, fangs and tentacles brought our party to the absolute limit – so when he was defeated, the jubilation around the table was palpable.

It’s a really, truly awesome resource, and will take any game night and turn it up to eleven.

Make sure to check out our full review of Barrow of the Corpse Crawler for all the info on the contents of thios box!

Has Barrow of the Corpse Crawler left you ravenous for more D&D? There’s still time to pledge to Steamforged Games’ brand-new Epic Encounters: Local Legends Kickstarter for more awesome D&D-compatible content!

Editor’s note: the flavour text that has been inserted throughout this article does not originate from within the Barrow of the Corpse Crawler Campaign Booklet. This was written by Rob as part of his planning and was used throughout the live playtesting session.

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  • VoltorRWH

    Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

About VoltorRWH 120 Articles
Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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