Our band of intrepid D&Ders continue on their quest for fame and fortune. Whilst the Lich Empress may have been defeated, other threats linger – and these ones have a taste for flesh and blood. What trials await both them and our Dungeon Master in our latest Epic Encounters How to Play? How easy is the set to use? And most of all, is it actually any fun? Read on to find out.
How to Play Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin – Introduction
We’re back for another session of Dungeons and Dragons with the help of one of the latest Steamforged Games Epic Encounters box.
D&D can be a tough game to get into. There’s a lot to it, and the scope and breadth of its system leaves would-be players at the whims of a thousand rulebooks and unsure where exactly to start their journey. Donning the mantle of Dungeon Master/Game Master, however, is an infinitely more daunting prospect – even the most experienced D&Der.
As such, products like Steamforged Games’ Epic Encounters sets take some of the legwork out of both running and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Designed to be an encounter in a box, SFG’s Epic Encounters come in one of two flavours: Warband boxes, which come equipped with a number of different figures for larger, pack-style encounters, and Boss boxes, for dramatic showdowns against monstrous, er, monsters.
Today, we’ve re-assembled our Dungeons and Dragons players to have a look at SFG’s latest Warband box. Having escaped the Arena of the Undead Horde and faced their first truly indomitable foe atop the Tower of the Lich Empress, our players’ next encounter will take place within the Hive of the Ghoul-kin.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure you check out our full close-up review of the contents of this box in our Hive of the Ghoul-kin review.
How to Play Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin – The Team
You’ve met them once before already, fumbling their way from the Arena of the Undead Horde to the Tower of the Lich Empress, but here they are again!
So, from left to right, we have Rich the Half-Elf Wizard, Ollie the Dwarf Barbarian, Dave the Wood Elf Druid (who would like everyone to know he doesn’t normally wear sunnies indoors, he’d left his regular glasses at home and only has these!) and Lizzie the Aaracockra Rogue*.
As ever, the session will be organised and run by FauxHammer’s own Rob…
…who desperately needs a bigger DM screen.
Since last time, we’ve also outfitted our D&Ders with their own custom minis, courtesy of Hero Forge Custom Miniatures.
These were all 3D printed by Ross using his Photon Ultra and designed and painted by Rob using Citadel, Monument Hobbies, and Scale 75 paints (aside from Dave’s druid, which he designed himself!).
*To note, since the last session, Lizzie has rerolled her Aaracokra Druid into an Aaracokra Rogue in order to have a better spread of classes across the party.
How to Play Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin – The Venue
As ever, we’re back at The Games Table in Norwich for this week’s adventure.
We could sing the praises about this place to the highest of heavens (and we frequently do), but today we’ll suggest you head over to their Facebook page and have a look through their recent posts and pictures for a good sense of what they’re doing.
If you live near Norwich, The Games Table is definitely worth the trip. Should you be from further afield but find yourself visiting, make sure you drop in for a visit!
How to Play Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin – Playtesting
There are two sides to every D&D session: the set-up and the playing. Both require very different things from a D&D group and, as such, have very different demands of any associated products. As such, you may want to familiarise yourself with the various part of this box before you read on. You can do this by taking a look at our Hive of the Ghoul-kin review.
The first part, the set up, is handled by the DM/GM. As such, any resources will need to be easy for them to implement into their games. The second part, the actual playing of the session, needs to be easy for the DM/GM to run and adapt on the spot, and also needs to be loads of fun for the players. Whether or not a session is fun largely depends on how a DM/GM is able to use their material and resources, so things come full circle back to that first point again.
So, how do the resources in the Hive of the Ghoul-kin box measure up?
Playtesting – Set Up
If you’re a DM/GM, you’ll likely know that setting up for your D&D session comes in two parts.
First, there’s the pre-session bit, where you make sure you’ve got everything you need to run your session ahead of time. Whether you do this five days before your session and spend hours and hours doing it, or you quickly glance over your source material five minutes beforehand depends entirely on your style.
Next, there’s the on-the-day stuff: laying out maps, reading your miniatures, making sure you’ve got all your resources sequestered firmly away from your players’ eyes behind your DM screen, and so on. We’ll have a closer look at what Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin does for both these steps now.
A big part of any Dungeons and Dragons session often takes place before everyone meets up and starts throwing dice. The Dungeon Master or Game Master, whichever happens to be your title preference (henceforth DM/GM), will need to do at least a little prep before the session starts.
Depending on how you like to run your session will determine how you use the book. For those DMs/GMs who are comfortable turning up and ad-libbing the encounter, the Campaign Book has all the basic info you need. There are plenty of notes on setting, guides on using the maps in the box, and all the stats you need for the enemies. You’ll find it easy to get from one part of the encounter to the next using just the info in the book. You could rock up to game night having glanced over the Campaign Book once and be ready to go with no prior planning necessary.
If, however, you’re a bit more
pedantic of a perfectionist like I am, you’ll likely want to have plenty of narrative fluff and other failsafes put in place in order to ensure your session goes off without a hitch. As such, I prepared a few sheets of notes to take with me, including some expanded loot (which on the day the party almost entirely missed all of). I also really wanted to give my players plenty of opportunities to really engage with their characters and build their personalities, which is, perhaps, the one thing that the Hive of the Ghoul-kin Epic Encounter doesn’t facilitate so well.
But that’s not necessarily a problem. Because the Campaign Book is so modular, it’s very easy to fit in other stuff around what is already written – which is what I was able to do, facilitating travel and exploration elements before arrival at the encounter. It’s pretty much a case of just plugging in the Campaign Book when you want it and unplugging it when you’re done with it. Looking over the notes I wrote, I have a few sides of my own writing, and then just a note to “use the Campaign Book from pages X to Y for this bit”.
II. On the Day
Because the Hive of the Ghoul-kin set comes with all the maps and miniatures you need in order to run your encounter, setting up on the day simply requires you to remember to pack the box and take the map and minis out at the correct moment.
That the campaign booklet is quite small and slimline means it is easily tucked behind your DM screen, and can easily be kept open alongside your other notes. In addition to this, as we noted in our full product review, the Hive of the Ghoul-kin’s packaging is excellent: the box isn’t too large, and the clever packaging makes certain that everything is both safely stored yet easily accessible.
Playtesting – Playing the Encounter
With the preliminary set up of the encounter complete and our D&Ders all present and accounted for, we could begin the session and play some Dungeons and Dragons. So, how would the session go, and what would our players think of the products?
I. Leaving the Tower of the Lich Empress and Entering the Hive of the Ghoul-kin
In order to ensure that our players had a sense of continuation from the last Epic Encounter they played – which was Tower of the Lich Empress – we were keen to create a continuing story that took them from the setting we had established during the last session and on to the Hive of the Ghoul-kin.
According to the Hive of the Ghoul-kin campaign booklet, the Ghoul-kin like to eat dead bodies. As our players had just faced off against the arch-villain in charge of an entire army of undead, it was easy enough to establish a reason as to why a bunch of corpse-eating monsters would hang around nearby.
“These ghouls have grown fat and strong on the corpses of the dead abducted by the Lich Empress’ followers. A sick symbiosis has existed between the Lich Empress and the Ghoul-kin for centuries: powerful allies and savage killers, the Lich Empress has allowed the Ghoul-kin to take corpses – and even the occasional one of her followers – in order to keep themselves strong. The Lich Empress knew that should anything threaten her, the Ghoul-kin would come to her side to defend her home – as well as their own. But the Ghoul-kin know this balance has now been disrupted and are on the edge of a feeding frenzy. Suddenly afraid that their way of life is under threat, they are lashing out and taking what they can from the Old Kingdom whilst it is still plentiful.”
It didn’t take long for our players to stumble upon their first wandering ghoul, and shortly afterwards they found themselves at the entrance to the Ghoul-kin’s lair.
From a DM’s perspective, linking our previous session to this one – literally a case of going from the Tower of the Lich Empress box the Hive of the Ghoul-kin box – was actually very easy. Whilst there was no guide on how to do this in either box, neither set imposed any restrictions on what needed to come before or after each encounter. As such, putting one next to the other – and linking the two zones with a little travel and some roleplay – was very easy, and the players were none the wiser as to the disconnect between the two.
One thing I was sure to include, however, were a few tremors – earthquake-like movements beneath our players’ feet, perhaps hinting at something to come…
II. The Ghoul-kin Encounters
Having linked the two encounters together with a few bits of narrative and a little roleplaying, we arrived at the meat of the Hive of the Ghoul-kin box.
The first part of the encounter begins with the players dropping face-first into the middle of the hive having happened upon an opening. The Campaign Booklet states players enter the chamber from a hole in its roof – that’s all. No restrictions, no prerequisites. Just a hole to fall through.
“Yawning, jagged-edged, and tinged with the touch of firelight, the wide hole in the ground looks down onto what appears to be a crypt. You can spot a handful of choked torches around the edge of the wide, rectangular chamber that awaits you maybe twelve feet below. You can make out a floor of cut and dressed stone, once laid with care but now cracked and worn after untold centuries of use and disrepair.“
From a DM’s perspective, this super basic, easily replaceable entry into the encounter is fantastic, as it afford you a great deal of flexibility. It’s an easy part to remove and rework depending on your own campaign.
In fact, dropping face-first in amidst the ghouls was exactly what happened to poor Dave. Spectacularly whiffing an acrobatics check, his Wood Elf Druid plunged face-first down into the clutches of the flesh-hungry Ghoul-kin, who decided to try and make him their latest meal. The rest of the party followed, and the encounter was able to start in earnest.
It’s up to the DM/GM how to run the encounter: have the Ghoul-kin arrive in small, wave-like groups or hurl everything at the players at once. Because our party are all level 10, I decided to empty the majority of the miniatures onto the table at the start of the encounter, then reinforce the Ghoul-kin with the worm-riding Hive Wardens half-way through.
Don’t be afraid to really hurl these enemies at your party – none of them are particularly beefy, and higher level characters will be able to one-shot the smaller ones. Also, DMs/GMs, keep a close eye on the Ghoul-kin’s abilities: some have some dangerous (and very fun) things they can do to keep your party on their toes.
And don’t forget the “pustules” table. This is a lot of fun.
There are also plenty of suitably grim environmental factors you can take advantage of: acid pools, maggot farms, butchery blocks. These are all designed to encourage players to really think about their position on the board instead of just jumping head-first into anything that appears. Ollie, for example, almost found himself face-down in an acid pool after leaping onto the back of one of the Ghoul-kin stalkers mid-fight to try and kill it.
With the room cleared, the Campaign Book then suggests players encounter either or both the Corpse-Chewer Corral and the Tunnels. These smaller transitory zones don’t have battlemaps like the first part of the encounter and the mini-boss that finishes it off. These are smaller, flexible additions to the module that can be inserted or left out as the DM/GM requires – depending on both how you may wish to run the encounter and any time constraints you have have.
In order to try and speed the players along, that suspicious, earthquake-like rumbling appeared again, and as such they all fled into the Tunnels to avoid a rockfall. They then managed to silently sneak into the Brood-Sire’s Demesne, the second mapped part of the encounter.
The Brood-Sire is a mini-boss. He’s an intimidating foe, sure, especially when backed up by his ghouls, but he’s not an impossible task for an experienced adventure party. He’s also the perfect baddie to build some lore around, especially if you’re running a longer campaign.
Without spoiling too much for would-be parties, the battle with the Brood-Sire is about strength and endurance. He’s a monstrous, meaty meanie backed up by a near-infinite supply of smaller, but no less angry, minions.
The party will need to be clever with their approach and selective with their spells. The Brood-Sire, himself a towering foe capable of ripping lumps out of the player party, is backed up by his near-infinite supply of Ghoul-kin creations, who will fight to the very last to defend him.
Run correctly, the encounter with the Brood-Sire has the potential to be a supremely memorable moment for any campaign. His laboratory-crypt full of horrors, the chattering of his foul ghouls, his own terrifying presence: this is the stuff D&D legends are made of.
Our players prevailed against the Brood-Sire – by the skins of their collective teeth. As testimony to how tough the encounter can be, both Rich and Lizzie were brought to the very brink and were only saved by several timely heals from Dave (and Ollie kicking the living snot out of everything).
“The laboratory falls still. The stench remains, as do the ghosts of the unspeakable horrors that took place here, but you finally have a way out. 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.“
Whatever awaits them next? Surely it couldn’t be a huge, angry worm? Nah.
How to Play Epic Encounters: Hive of the Ghoul-kin – Summary
Once again, the verdict from the FauxHammer.com resident D&Ders was unanimous: Hive of the Ghoul-kin is a helluva lot of fun. The miniatures are excellent and wonderfully varied, and were brilliant for upping the excitement on the board.
Once the players were familiar with each type of monster, their appearances in later parts of the encounter elicited the appropriate reactions you’d want as a DM/GM. The small Reavers drew eye-rolls and cries “not these guys again”, from the group. When the two hulking Ghoul-kin Bulwarks lumbered into view during the Brood-Sire fight, the colour visibly drained from some of the faces around the table. Ollie even described the sinewy, canine-like Ghoul-kin Stalker “truly cursed” for its twisted appearance. In fact, he hated the way it looked so much he made it his priority to kill them both when they first appeared.
From a DM/GM perspective, Hive of the Ghoul-kin is a fantastic resource that really helps bring a D&D session to life. It’s not restrictive in how it plays, and there’s plenty of flexibility afforded across the entire encounter (for example, we didn’t head to the Corpse-Chewer Corrals).
You could quite easily run the entire session off the resources in this box alone and have no need to use anything else. The maps are great, the minis are fantastic, and there are more than enough ideas in the Campaign Booklet to keep you going. We filled four hours with this box, and that was with me hurrying the party along at points.
There’s a lot here, and all of it to like. Tons of fun for players, and easy to implement for DMs/GMs, Hive of the Ghoul-kin is a no-brainer. Grab yourself a copy, and plunge your D&D party into a horrific body-horror nightmare at your next session.
If you haven’t already done so, now is the perfect time to check out our Hive of the Ghoul-kin review for a close look at the rest of the box. You won’t be disappointed.
Once again, a huge thanks to The Games Table for hosting us!
Editor’s note: the flavour text that has been inserted throughout this article does not originate from within the Hive of the Ghoul-kin Campaign Booklet. This was written by Rob as part of his planning and was used throughout the live session.