Start Your Digging

Originally published at:

Caving by Michael Prescott

Hello friends!

Recently, Luke and I have been discussing the Dungeoneer skill. The skill is great, but our feeling is that we’ve overburdened it. Right now it governs both climbing and trap disarming—two things adventurers are likely to get up to a lot in dungeons.

At the same time, there’s one thing that gets short-shrift in Torchbearer’s skills: digging. It’s covered by the Laborer skill, but there’s not much in the way of diversity of obstacles. Our players are probably unusual in that they absolutely adore digging—a hold-over from our Burning THAC0 days when we had a Burning Wheel dungeon delving campaign. In those days, there was nothing that could earn you MVP faster than coming up with a clever way to use the Ditch Digging skill (in our early, impoverished days we once scraped together enough cash to cover a lifestyle maintenance test by retrenching latrines…). The dwarf, with his magical Excavation skill, was like unto a god.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that we’re toying with adding a new skill to Torchbearer: Sapper.


Life underground has its own rules. Sapper are experts in the unpredictable dynamics of digging and defending in the darkness below.

Sappers dig tunnels, collapse them and set traps for the unwary.
Beginner’s Luck: Will
Help: Alchemist, Laborer
Supplies: Sulphur, lumber, grease

Tunneling Factors

Tunnel Type +Length +Material
Crawlway (1) Short (1) Earth (0)
Shaft (2) Long (2) Clay (1)
Tunnel (3)
Stone (2)

Sand (3)

Tunnel Traps Factors

Setting Trap Type Disarming Traps
Pit (1) + Material factors Tripwire and open pit (1)
Tripwire alarm (2) False floor (2)
Deadfall (3) Pressure plate (3)
Spear or crossbow mechanism (4) Complex and multipart mechanisms (4)
Gas and smoke mechanisms (5) Explosives (5)
Explosives (6) Sigils or runes (6)

What do you think? I know there’s been a fair bit of conversation about disarming traps on the forums and the Mordite Press blog, but do your players ever set traps? Do they tunnel? Let’s talk about it!

Start your digging.


I agree that Dungeoneer may be overloaded. The way Dungeoneer is presented also makes for some weird logic, where hammering pitons and belaying a rope in the mountains is Pathfinder, but in a cavern it’s Dungeoneer.

Splitting Trapsmith off into its own skill might work. Does that rob from Hunter a bit?

We’ve used Laborer to good effect for digging tasks. I like Sapper, but as an engineering application it actually fits more neatly with the climbing aspects of Dungeoneer than the Trapsmith bits do. I’m not sure it comes up often enough to merit its own skill.

Now, if Sapper includes digging and navigating/draining submerged passages, we’re in business.

The word Dungeoneer is indeed awesome, but for maximum clarity I would want:

  • Climber – above or below ground. Best to include some more guidance for group vs. individual tests, especially in combination and with the Grind. (Escalader is an awesome word, but surely too obscure)
  • Pathfinder – Orientation and trailblazing. Climbing a mountain now goes to climber.
  • Sapper – Digging, tunnels, collapses, draining and swimming underground.
  • Trapsmith – Building traps to catch people. This could arguably go to Criminal (because murder and also the same logic as pickpocketing – takes a thief to catch a thief)
  • Hunter – Building traps to catch food. Maybe let this go to Trapsmith though and stick to the stealthy murder of animals (and people, in my games).

As a final thought, though, skill changes of any kind are a nightmare for existing characters who need to figure out where they fit in the new method. Not enough to quit the game over, but I mutter and curse any change in an established RPG that does this. The changes I recommend above might solve perceived issues for me, but I would still prefer less of a change than that. If it ain’t broke…

1 Like

Pathfinder is not a climbing skill. I use Dungeoneer for all climbing tasks.

1 Like

I can’t see us ever including a Trapsmith skill. It just doesn’t make any in-world sense. It’s not a profession one would attest to, form a guild around or proudly advertise. It’s a fantasy trope, and while it may seem odd, we work hard to avoid or re-examine such tropes.


If it helps, here’s how we would update Dungeoneer:

Dungeoneers are experts at climbing and exploring caves, dungeons and the ruins of lost civilizations–and getting themselves and their companions out alive. They are adept at traversing difficult and dangerous environments.
Beginner’s Luck: Health
Help: Laborer, Survivalist
Supplies: Rope, spikes, candles

Dungeon Delving Factors
Descending/crossing a vertical pitch (1)
Ascending a vertical pitch (2)
Negotiating a narrow squeeze (3)
Negotiating water-filled chambers (4)
Negotiating water-filled chambers with a swift current (5)

One person (0)
Two people (1)
Whole party of adventurers (2)

Detection Factors
Environmental Detail
Bad/good air (1)
Slope (2)
Direction (3)


I’m convinced. By that logic, mantraps might still be the province of a Criminal, though.

Everyone I’ve ever played with seems to interpret this section in their own way with respect to the grind. Sending one person through to get the low Ob, then pushing for a Good Idea or a lower Ob is common. I’d love to know the official line on that one.

1 Like

I’m OK with it, but it really does have to be a Good Idea. Otherwise I try to keep asking questions until it becomes clear that what they’re describing is how they get the whole party through the obstacle. Then I set the ob using the ‘whole party’ factor.


I don’t think it’s enough to require a whole new skill. Disarming traps should be the purview of the Criminal, which I think is an underused skill as it is. And, aside from hauling stuff around, I think Laborer wouldn’t be overburdened by adding the digging/tunneling factors. Setting up traps sounds like something a Hunter or Survivalist would be good at. Also, in this way, these different aspects require more of a team effort since the skills are more spread out.

Our criminal skill is for those involved in smuggling, counterfeiting, picking pockets or picking locks. These are the traditional arts of historical criminals outside of confidence games and brigandage. We feel that puts plenty of weight on the skill and that adding “traps” to it would feel tacked on.

1 Like

I agree that trapsmith is not quite a vocation, but if it were largely confined to traps or snares that a hunter would use, is that a legitimate occupation for a tinker to take up and advertise with some measure of esteem in society. Like, I wouldn’t feel disdain for the inventor of live-capture animal traps, even if I wouldn’t think of that being a career for me. Well, I wouldn’t feel disdain for the inventor of non-live-capture traps either, but still, not my career choice.

I can imagine a guild of pest-killers, of hunters, or of vermin-hunting animal trainers. It’s not the clean and simple look of butch, baker, brewer, and cooper, but someone takes up those roles in a community.

I think running a game, I’d confine most of dealing with pests, vermin, game animals, and other such traps or snares under the purview of Hunter rather than Sapper or Criminal. However, when it comes to larger traps or snares meant for people, giants, gods, I’d still roll that on Hunter. So, I imagine those really trap-infested dungeons have required a hunter’s mind and eye to develop the traps for success. Even those with a small number of traps I’d say those are still the function of Hunter.

Now, disarming, I could appreciate that falling to Sapper. But, also, there are some traps I’d disarm by Dungeoneer and some by Criminal. And, I might have a few that can be disarmed by Laborer. It depends on the type of trap and the means by which players attempt to disarm it or approach it.

Digging and actual tunnel and having the knowledge to avoid cave-ins (or cause them) seems like a decent skill concept. I like Sapper. Dungeoneer to me is seems more like a straight up underground navigation skill (how to get from point A to point B).

I feel like traps themselves are a really broad category. A cave-in can be a trap, but also an intricate device as complex as a pocket watch, with needles and springs, etc. Maybe there should be a distinction there based on style/complexity. Like a Hunter can make pits and snares (Ewok style); a Sapper can make pit traps and cave-ins; a Stone Mason might make murder holes or spear traps; a ‘Jeweler’ (if there were such a skill) can make device traps or trapped locks and chests. Something relating to the knowledge of the crafter and the style of trap.

Dungeoneer IS a powerful skill; but the discussions we’ve had have been less about its breadth and more about what happens outside the dungeon. What skill do you use if you’re scaling a cliff out in the wilds? Dungeoneer? If not, why not?

That’s undeniably a dungeoneer roll.

Well we debated whether or not climbing might be arguably a raw health test.

There’s wording in Pathfinder that has confused a lot of people about Dungeoneer.

Based on Thor’s recent comments, I realize I was misinterpreting “finding your way” in Pathfinder.

I think the official line is:

  • Always dungeoneer for belaying ropes, hammering pitons, and scaling cliffs. Above or below ground.
  • Always pathfinder for blazing trails and managing a march overland.
  • When you are lost or finding your way: Pathfinder above ground, Dungeoneer below.

We did this wrong for a very long time.


Yes to all of this except that last bullet. Sorta kinda. The intent, at least, is there is no navigation skill that governs things when you’re underground. Dungeoneer can help you determine cardinal directions, or whether a tunnel is sloping up or down. But the only way to really navigate anywhere underground is to explore and create a map that connects where you are to where you want to go.


This topic was automatically closed 21 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.