Start Your Digging

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 TypeDisarming Traps
Pit (1) + Material factorsTripwire 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.

Notable Replies

  1. 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…

  2. Avatar for Thor Thor says:

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

  3. Avatar for luke luke says:

    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.

  4. Avatar for Thor Thor says:

    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)

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

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