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So one of my player is a clever guy. At night when the others are putting the camp together he digs a hole big enough for himself (between 3-4 feet deep) and ask someone to cover his body with dirt and use a straw to breath. So his idea is to avoid ambush at night.

The first time I was baffled by this idea and had no response. After a couple of nights I started challenging his strategy. I identified a couple of potential complications but he was able to answer everything I got.

  • Sleeping under 3 feet of dirt at night would be terribly cold (But I have a bedroll which is warm enough
  • You wouldn't sleep comfortably and be sore in the morning (No specific rules for sleeping in armor I can use as a reference)
  • Breathing through a straw requires keeping your mouth close and doing so while you're sleeping is impossible (I'm an elf and when I'm in trance I'm not asleep so I can keep my mouth shut)

He has no intention of quickly being able to help the rest of the party if they get attacked so escaping his hole is not something I can use against him (I tried).

So far the problem has not transpired out of game. I'm annoyed because he's obviously trolling but the other members of the group don't mind his selfishness (he doesn't get XP or loot from attacks at night). Am I wrong to think that this is not such a great plan? I can't think of any reason or mechanics to point out the flaws of his plan.

I don't mind him doing it. I just think I'm not emulating the consequences properly because it's an obviously stupid decision.

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Answer in answers, not comments. –  mxyzplk Aug 10 at 3:49
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this reminds me of a long running joke in my rpg group about camping in the wilderness. the end point was something like this: Pitch the tent, dig a ditch next to it, light a fire in the ditch, put the sleeping bags in a nearby tree, then go to the nearest inn and get a room, put wizard lock on the door of the room, climb out the window and go back home and forget about the whole thing –  SteveED Aug 10 at 17:16

18 Answers 18

up vote 78 down vote accepted

I wasn't comfortable with some assumptions people are readily making in their comments, so I did some research and a few calculations. I also incorporated some suggestions made in the comments.

The crushing weight of the earth

He digs a hole big enough for himself (between 3-4 feet deep)

Lots of people claim he'd have trouble breathing, which is likely to be true, but let's get some numbers. Earth has a density as high as 2tons/cubic meter, so the following represents worst-case scenario.

If his hole is about 4ft deep, and assuming a character 6ft tall and 3ft wide occupying 1ft from the bottom (that is, there are 3ft of earth above him) he is under roughly 54 cubic feet of dirt, which is about 1.5cu.m, or 3 tons (metric). At 3ft, that's 2 tons—in fact, for the proportions I chose, for each foot of dirt above his body, there'd be a total increase of 1 ton in weight. But that's distributed over a rectangle covering his whole body, how would each body part suffer?

About 30% of that weight would be directly on his chest (assuming his torso is about 30% of his height). This means it'd be supporting and breathing against something between half a ton and one ton—or one or two horses. His neck would be under about at least 40kg, which is like a rottweiler standing on it—he might get a sore throat. His legs would be supporting about a horse each—unless he wants a gangrene that's a no-no.

Armour and other forms of protection

I assume your player wouldn't be sleeping naked. If he's wearing some form of rigid armour (so the weight is on the chestplate, not on his chest), could he bear the weight? Well, let's see.

According to this short article, a baseball bat swing can deliver a peak force of over 36 thousand Newtons. That's equivalent to 3.6 tons, so if you think the character's armour should be able to handle that without breaking, it should be a breeze. Considering that plate armour only dents against a war hammer swing, even though all that weight is being applied on a much smaller area, I think it's enough. He wouldn't, however, be able to move—that'd be a really uncomfortable night though, sleeping in full plate mail and unable to move. And I don't want to think what happens if he needs to go to the toilet.

There's a better way around it: if he was able to create a structure over his body able to support that kind of weight, that should protect him. I don't mean something as sophisticated as the shelter Brian suggested (though that's even better an idea), he can use stones or wood to build something more rudimental, like a wooden platform. That would force him to gather supplies to build it each night or dig shallower if that's unavailable.

If he can't build a structure like that, even with very resilient plate armour he'd be unable to move. Without a helm, he'd have his face caked with damp earth for the whole night—that's not reasonable, if the player disagrees ask if he can fall asleep with a wet towel on his face. You can ask him to devise a way to create such a structure and the means to transport it (going around dragging a coffin or something similar would completely make up for it, in my opinion), or bury himself less deep (0.5-1ft layer of dirt over his body would still be efficient at hiding him, easier to support and generally more believable).

Temperature and humidity

Some people mentioned the cold and dampness. That's a valid point. I'll start with the cold.

If it's decided he must have something that would protect him from the weight of the earth, I don't think cold would be a problem. Actually, being in a cramped space would also warm up the air around him. Snow caves are an example, suggesting that if he had some empty space, being underground would probably make him warmer than lying above the ground, where there might be wind or dew.

I couldn't find anything convincing about moisture below 3ft deep, but down to that point, it's fairly regular. I understand the logic, dampness is a problem in underground buildings—but generally, these lay a lot deeper than 4ft underground. I don't find anything to support the idea that it'd be a lot damper under 3 or 4 feet than it would on the surface—unless, of course, there has been a lot of rain, the party is near a body of water or above a shallow water table. If you have a map of the region, you could judge that from the position of water bodies. You could roll to see if he hits water—or rocks, for that matter.

Bottom line: Penalties to sleeping on damp surfaces may apply if he can't protect himself from dampness, I don't see the cold being a big factor. Frequent or intense rain could frustrate his plan.

Animals, insects and other creepy-crawlies

A number of animals live underground, a few of which could be dangerous to find. Several are carnivores that might attack to defend themselves if one runs into their lairs–badgers, for instance, are known for being fierce. I'm not sure if any would burrow so deep, but if they find something underground that looks defenseless, tentative bites might be possible.

Several others might be inconvenient in different degrees: ant colonies, especially fire or bullet ants, would suck to run into, and colonies can go quite deep. Tarantulas and spiders in general, centipedes and other carnivorous and/or poisonous insects might be even worse, but they tend to burrow in shallow trenches, so I'm not sure how much of a problem that would be during the night.

There are myriads of microorganisms that live in earth, especially when it's warm and damp. Several bacteria and fungi can cause dangerous diseases, and sleeping underground frequently would expose the character to them a lot more frequently.

Breathing through a straw

Breathing through a straw requires keeping your mouth close and doing so while you're sleeping is impossible.

If he actually manages to create a chamber around his head, that'd be fine. He doesn't have to have the straw in his mouth to breathe through it. Actually, that'd be a terrible idea, as any weight falling on the straw from above could cause it to stab the character in the mouth, which may also give him a sore throat.

Another soil weight related complication: the straw itself should be able to support the same kind of weight as the player, or it'd collapse at the bottom. It's not impossible, just inconvenient: what is it made of? How was it made? How did the character come by it? How does he carry it around?

There are other important things to take into account: straw must have enough airflow to allow him to breath normally (which constrains the diameter) and the volume needs to be smaller than his lungs' (which constrains the total volume), if the end is exposed, particles or liquids might enter, and bugs might crawl in looking for somewhere warm.

Contrary to what has been said in other answers, the dimension constraints aren't too hard to meet. If we have a straw 0.5in internal diameter (which seems plenty, compared to tracheal tubes and nasopharyngeal airways) and 4ft long, the volume is about 6e-3 cubic feet, or about 0.17l. This is not much of a problem: human adult respiratory tidal volume (the amount of air pulled in or pushed out in calm respiration, which is more relevant than the lung capacity per se) is normally around 0.5l. That means that for each breath, 66% of the air pulled in is fresh, which is enough: oxygen concentration in atmosphere is about 21%, but exhaled air has about 15% oxygen. Therefore, 66% fresh air means he'd be breathing around (21 * 66%) + (15 * 34%) =19% oxygen, which is enough to survive. For the level of oxygen drop below 16% (the threshold where trouble starts), his expiration would need to have less than 7% oxygen‚ which seems unlikely.

It could also happen that the straw gets pulled out from outside, causing his airway to collapse under it's weight. Would he suffocate? Adult humans breath at least 12 times per minute, and each exhalation has at least 4% carbon dioxide, which means about 20ml (assuming a 500ml Tidal volume as before). That adds at least 240ml, or 0.008cu.ft of carbon dioxide each minute. Oxygen is inspired at 21% and expired at 16% of less—therefore, depleted at 25ml/breath, translating to 300ml or 0.01cu.ft per minute. Low oxygen or high carbon dioxide cause accelerated breathing, but I'll ignore that for simplicity.

We had assumed an 18cu.ft hole. Let's say his equipment and his body occupy 1/3 of that. At the moment of the collapse, there are 12cu.ft of air, nearly no CO2 and 2.52cu.ft of oxygen. Carbon dioxide is not toxic, but starts causing mental confusion at a concentration of 6%. 6% of 12cu.ft is 0.72cu.ft, it'd take 90 minutes to reach that level at the rates calculated. After another hour, it reaches 10%, and after another hour in 10% or under, the character would asphyxiate. Oxygen, on the other hand, would be dangerous below 10% (or 1.2l). It'd be at that level after 132 minutes, and after 180 minutes it'd be below 6%(or 0.72l), causing the heart to stop. Whoops.

As suggested in the comments: if the DM woke up feeling funny, it might just happen that some animal spots the straw and, upon smelling strangers, decides to mark their territory. Then again, the character might just like it.

Interactions with the party

He has no intention of quickly being able to help the rest of the party if they get attacked so escaping his hole is not something I can use against him (I tried).

That's the biggest problem I see in his method. If you think any of the characters wouldn't be okay with it based on their traits, make that character justify why they're not doing anything about it. Otherwise, that's not your problem, but the party's. Perhaps everyone else is equally selfish in allowing this to get extra XP and loot, which might end up creating a big gap between him and other players, but I assume he realizes this.

The party would also need to be willing to dig him out every morning, and if he's using some form of platform, they'd have to help him build the thing every night, rebuild it if it's not good enough—that's a lot of work, why are they willing to help him do it? Will they have the energy or will to dig him out in the morning after a vicious fight? What if they were at risk of getting hurt in the process?

As someone else pointed out in the comments, there's another problem: digging a hole that big takes at least few hours. And that's assuming that they have a shovel or two lying around, which then brings the problem of carrying it. With no shovel, it's even worse, and getting hurt is unavoidable. Why is everybody willing to waste something like 10% of their day and a lot of energy to do this? ESPECIALLY before breakfast?

Personally, I wouldn't mind having a player like that in a party, as long as I didn't have to help him get in or out, nor carry shovels around. His survival entirely depends on each party member. If he ever crosses someone or if they got fed up, they can get back easily: by pouring something/farting down his straw, abandoning him buried, selling him out to the enemies. There are so many creative ways to get rid of or back at him that it's almost wasteful that I'd most likely just forget to dig him out.

How to deal with this as a DM?

Am I wrong to think that this is not such a great plan? I can't think of any reason or mechanics to point out the flaws of his plan.

If you ask me, it's a not good plan because I wouldn't want to be in his position, but if he's not bothered and neither is the party, I don't get the problem. Again: if you think the party shouldn't be comfortable with this, force everyone to justify why they're going through pains just so the freak can have his way.

Otherwise, whether or not you, as a DM, should discourage this is a matter of opinion. Personally, I don't think it's the kind of thing the DM should have to intervene in—it's a problem for the character and the party alone. But ultimately, it's your table—you can kill him pretty easily if you want him to stop and he doesn't want to.

Regardless, one thing I think you could and even should do is roll every night for unpleasant effects. Some ideas:

  • 10% chance of a perfectly restful night
  • 30% for a small unpleasant effect: feeling uncomfortable all night, not getting enough sleep, having an itch, pissing himself, eating bugs, bugs crawling all over his body etc. He'd sleep, just not as much as everyone else.
  • 30% for something more inconvenient: fire ants attacking his crotch for small damage, a mole stealing something shiny, water dripping on him all night, something keeping him from sleeping etc. No sleep tonight.
  • 25% of something really bad: partial blockage of the straw so he can't breathe properly, an animal chewing or otherwise damaging the straw, liquids, dirt or mud seeping in the straw to slowly fill his "cave", an animal decides to see what he tastes like, some nasty disease etc. Perhaps some direct damage.
  • 5% chance of something fatal or incapacitating: a disastrous collapse of his platform, somebody falling on top of the straw causing it to stab him, partial collapse causing a limb to be deprived of blood, potentially leading to gangrene/amputation etc.

I just made up these probabilities and scenarios, but I'm not familiar with dnd-5e. You can play with them based on the character, the party, their abilities and traits etc. Be creative with the unpleasant effects, think of cumulative ones (sleep deprivation, diseases) and so on and so forth.

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You are positing a air space of 18 cubic feet... where did that 18 cubic feet of dirt and rocks go? Ever seen a fresh grave? It has a mound of dirt on top of it... not only do you have to do something with the dirt that was displaced, it's not as compact as it was and fills the hole more readily, not to mention it's freshly-turned earth. In short, unless this guy's friends are really good at camouflage, anyone who enters the camp is going to know something big is buried there. If his friends are driven off, does he want to meet who digs him up? –  Carl Cravens Aug 12 at 22:16
    
@CarlCravens if you mean I should have added that amount to the weight I disagree, they can simply scatter it. If you mean he'd be conspicuous, I agree, also for the straw. That's a good way to kill him: large group drives friends away and dig him out. –  kadu Aug 13 at 6:27

He won't get any sleep, and then he'll die.

I get the impression this player hasn't ever tried to sit on the ground for a while in an undeveloped area. There's all manner of creepy crawlies out there. His bedroll will get damp and then it'll get full of bugs--whether they're upset or happy or indifferent about his presence, they'll be omnipresent. Good luck sleeping, and you'll probably get some itchy bites to deal with the next day.

And then --more importantly-- he'll suffocate, because a three-foot-long straw is too long for him to get fresh air to breathe. Even unburied (and don't underestimate the weight of dirt on his lungs!), his lungs can't hold a sufficient volume of air (500mL is a good estimate) to draw in all the stale air in the straw and get enough fresh air from the surface to give him the oxygen he needs (by rough math, a thumb-width three-foot tube has something like 300mL volume, meaning only 2/5 of each breath will be fresh air), even assuming he's doing full exhalations and inhalations every time. Widening the tube would increase the tube's volume and make the problem worse. (Snorkels work because they're short: their volume is sufficiently less than the lung's capacity, so you get a lot more fresh air per breath through them.)

And if for some reason he does manage to get some sleep and not suffocate on his own exhalations, eventually a recurring villain who becomes familiar with the party's habits will just send someone to put a cork in the straw, or a passing bulette will be hungry, if one of his own party members doesn't accidentally sit on his straw first.

For a less lethal time underground, he might have to deal with consequences such as: Itchy bites; penalty to health-based checks from sleeping in the damp; bad cough from inhaling dirt; a mole carried off something valuable; you smell like you sleep in the dirt; party thinks you're kinda nutty and stops taking you seriously; party forgot you and had to come back, now you have trust issues...

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A full lung is more like three or four L. However, both when sleeping and when meditating, you are not using your full lung capacity -- rather about the 500 ml you mentioned. –  DevSolar Aug 14 at 10:52
    
@DevSolar OTOH, in a heavy air, you get much deeper breath during sleep (for a reason), so you breath more than 0.5 l in general. As well, the soil pressure is only circa 0.1 atm at this depth, so not much a trouble. But it doesn't change the fact that there are many other bad things to happen. –  tohecz Aug 15 at 0:25

Because it's so much easier to bury yourself and your party properly.

This does require some resources, but they can basically be gathered from the surrounding forest.

Kearny's Nuclear War Survival Skills is an astonishingly good reference. For this purpose, your player will be interested in the pole covered trench shelter (Chapter 5). It provides plans diagrams for the shelter that the whole party can fit in. Besides covering the party against stray fireballs, the very narrow entrances (you always want two in any kind of threatened area) will make it very easy to defend (assuming the enemy didn't bring shovels).

However, I suspect that this "bury yourself alive" stems from a naive view of defensive priorities. It's fairly straightforward to make a trench and palisade wall around the fire. While any proper route-camp fortification (in the roman style) will require proper watch-standers, the trench and wall will make a significant defensive difference.

However, assuming sufficient digging capabilities, and people willing to defend the exterior, a WWII trench shelter is not a bad plan. The trick is that it's fundamentally immobilising and rather depends on others to keep the character safe. FM7-10 does have tediously exhaustive instructions for building one: enter image description here

A much better bet is to hire "night guards" as hirelings, whose job it is to set up the palisade and trench and stand guard overnight. This provides a much higher level of safety (no restricted mobility, no threat of drowning by rain or enemy action) with only a trivial outlay.

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Very interesting references. I just might use that survival skills manual for my next character's "tic". –  Thane Brimhall Aug 12 at 17:28

"We're here to play a game of heroic fantasy. Tell me what part of this is heroic, or fantasy? It's really kind of weird."

There's a subset of players who do weird things out of a sense of paranoia, they never want their characters to be in danger. The problem is, if you're playing a game called "Dungeons & Dragons" it's basically a game called "Dangerous Places and Uber Monsters" and you know what you're signing up for in that regard when you play the game.

If your player isn't interested in that, he's not going to be a good fit for your game REGARDLESS of the in-game problems or consequences you throw at him.

I could think of a lot of in-game reasons that burying yourself would be a bad idea, or game mechanic based consequences you could do... but all of it is really dancing around the fact that this is a choice that basically needs a conversation about what kind of game they're looking to have and whether that at all fits with anything the group is trying to play.

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+1: Any team member not pulling his own weight should be cast out by the characters. –  András Aug 10 at 9:20
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@kadu "I'm going to play a character who is extremely paranoid and weird but not tell you or the rest of the group of players ahead of time and just make you deal with it in play" is not someone who is really trying to play their character for the fun of everyone playing the game. –  Bankuei Aug 10 at 14:29
    
@kadu Related: What is a social contract? –  SevenSidedDie Aug 11 at 4:17

Don't feed the trolls

If you don't want trolling in your game, don't feed it - don't argue the trolling and rules details. It won't get you anywhere, it will get you frustrated, it will waste time and encourage such trolling in the future. Those details don't matter, and they're not the reason why you're at the gaming table.

Show, not tell

You don't need to identify and discuss the possible complications, as you describe in your question. Actions have consequences - show them. If he is cold and doesn't sleep comfortably (according to you), don't give him the benefits that a full rest would give. If the rules don't go into some details, make a ruling and have it stick - just be proportional and consistent.

If there are risks, don't tell them but have them happen after a few times; start with relatively milder occurrences before escalating. For example, have him waken up by a mole digging at his feet. Don't tell him that he's vulnerable, but show it by having the above-ground party be driven away by an encounter - and then have him find out that he actually cannot get out by himself.

Make a story out of player actions

The point of roleplaying is engaging stories. A shallow story that emerges from player actions will feel more engaging than a deep story written by someone else that you 'railroad' through.

Instead of saying "you shouldn't do that", have interesting, memorable adventure for getting out of the mess that the reckless actions caused.

For example, make an encounter where the enemy weak spot is matched with his strongest abilities - one that's stronger than the "n-1" party but where everyone would feel that with the other character it would be winnable; so the party gets driven away/imprisoned/whatever; then have him be buried alive for a day or two until someone digs him up; then have a repeat encounter with the same enemy with a full party as a comeback/revenge - that would be a classic story structure.

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+1 for "Make a story out of player actions". –  AJMansfield Aug 10 at 17:48

Oho, there are plenty of reasons this isn't a good idea. First and foremost... RAIN! For whatever reason, what if the straw gets blocked? Not to mention that the ground can freeze at night even in warmer temperatures, make sure to have him take penalties from that. No, a bedroll doesn't keep you warm enough in freezing temperatures.

Plus, three feet of dirt isn't exactly crushing, but it would present breathing difficulties unless the dirt was supported from beneath. When he exhales the dirt would shift and press against him, preventing him from inhaling again unless he has incredibly powerful lungs (rather unlikely as that would require some SERIOUS strength.

Many things are not included in the rules, which is why there are DM's in this world. He wants to sleep buried alive? Go right ahead and let him, but make him suffer penalties for it. There are penalties for suffocation and for cold, use them. A standard bedroll wouldn't even protect you from normal cold nights when used on the surface (ever try to go camping in late fall or early spring?).

Being underground can also present other problems, such as moisture gathering on their gear and weapons. Assuming much of their stuff is nonmagical, it can probably rust. Mold could also become an issue with clothes and with the bedroll, which could cause sickness issues. Think this through logically. If he somehow gets around the freezing and suffocation from 3 feet of dirt pressing against his chest and the straw getting blocked from various means (bugs, rain, dirt, sand, heck even a leaf falling on it can get sucked in and block it, have his stuff slowly rusting and creating penalties, and molding and getting him sick.

Oh, and for giggles... there's bugs, snakes, and other critters in the dirt that might just dislike a sleeping elf next door to them. Feel free to have them stop by and express their displeasure if need be. Won't it be nice to wake up freezing, with rusty weapons, moldy clothes, poisoned from getting bit by spiders and snakes, and choking from the ants that crawled into the straw?

NOTE: Due to lack of experience with 5e, I cannot fully detail the possible penalties for everything. If you can't find them, wing it. If he's deliberately doing this to troll make him suffer for it. The above advice can be considered for any version of any game for that matter. Sans magic coming into play, and perhaps a coffin, everything above would apply.

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A lot of the other answers to this question deal with the actual mechanics of sleeping while buried. While they all bring up good points, don't forget that there are plenty of narrative-based consequences the player's actions can have.

The PC is obviously an undead

Suppose the party runs into a traveling paladin or cleric. What is the first thing they are going to see? One of the members is filthy with grave dirt in their hair and clothes, clearly a freshly risen corpse. Traveling paladins are known for their zealousness, not their keen intellect. So come up with a counter for every argument the player makes against being undead. They don't have to be perfect or even good, as long as they make sense to the paladin (and are funny to the players).

"I'm not a zombie, I can talk and jump around and stuff"

"Plenty of other undead. Probably a vampire"

"Vampire? We're talking in the middle of a sunny field"

"Stronger vampires have spells that let them go out in the sun"

"But you tried Detect Undead and Turn Undead on me and neither worked"

"Super strong vampire, with an artifact that hide Undeadness... I need to warn the rest of my Order!"

Sleeping in the wrong neighborhood

So, your player thinks that burying himself alive at night will keep him safe? That poor, deluded fool! Does he not know how many dangerous creatures lurk in the dirt? Not to mention the fact that he most likely has no way of signalling the rest of the party when things inevitably don't go his way. Here are a few ideas of what he could run up against.

  • Earth Elementals take offense to an outsider invading their territory. They kidnap the PC and the rest of the party has to rescue him.
  • Any number of burrowing creatures. The party goes to unbury the PC in the morning, only to find that his 'bed' was over a tunnel. Now they have to save him from a pack of angry Dire Moles.
  • Actual Zombies. The field that the party is camping in was actually the site of a battle in the past. By burying himself the PC angers the spirits(notice a pattern?) and a group of zombies rises up looking for a fight. For added shenanigans, have this occur right as the Paladin from above makes his second appearance, confirming that the PC is a zombie-raising super vampire.

There are two basic ways to handle a player acting like a troll during a game. You can throw "Rule Zero" in their face and just shut them down. Or you can get... creative.

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+1 for attacking burrowing creatures. "You dig a hole to sleep in to protect yourself from attack? Sure, but you were right on top of a nest of Purple Worms. A half-dozen of them attack: roll for initiative." –  Thomas Jacobs Aug 11 at 15:18
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Because nothing says "I've had it with your shenanigans" than six 16HD monsters trying to eat you. –  Thomas Jacobs Aug 12 at 7:40
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+1 for zealous paladins and general comedy shenanigans –  ioanwigmore Aug 13 at 11:42

note: I'm using a 1 Bar atmosphere rather than the "standard sea level" 1013 or the average on surface of 985 mBar, for simplicity.

The Dirt

A "standard man" is roughly 45x175cm of frontal area, which is about 0.7875m^2. (The gap between the legs and the gap by the head is eaten by the arms). At 1m depth, that's about 0.7875m^3 of dirt, at 1220kg/m^3, for roughly 968 kgf of weight. The torso is half that. So, some 480 kgf on about 0.4m^2.

Noting that the mass of a meter of soil is generating 480kg/4000cm^2 which is an increase of about 120 mBar.

As an aside... An 80kg man, kneeling on the chest an abdomen, and thus generating 80kgf on about 0.4m^2, for about 200kgf/m^2, can suffocate an average person without ever touching their head or neck.

Breathing Volume & Inhalation Negative Pressure

Typical human respiration is about 500 mL. Peak is about 3.5 L

But note: we're not designed to generate high inhalation pressure differentials. The study by Lausted et al shows a peak of 95 cm/H20, or 93 mBar... this also means the maximum breath pressure with 1 bar outside air is 1093 mBar... and that's really high (most generated about half that much...

The Tube

A 1.1m long, 2cm tube (which is pretty comfortable for flow - it's a typical CPAP mask connection hose diameter; the extra decimeter is to prevent dirt inflow) is about 345mL. Which means a typical resting breath only gets 155ml of fresh air per inhalation. So, to overcome this, the body wants to take in the extra volume to maintain airflow. Breath volume raises to 845mL, doing 1.69 times the volume.

So, to recap so far...

Maximum inhaled negative pressure: 93 mBar
Maximum torso chamber pressure or maximum compression: 93 mBar.
Added pressure from soil direct on chest: 120 mBar
Result: unable to inhale against outside pressure

Breathing in a cavity

Ok, so, he has rigid chest armor - that limits breath to about 500ml, so he's oxygen starving. And unless it's a pin-locked, interlocked, or hinged breast and back, it's not going to matter, because it's just going to compress on him anyway. (Those configurations are rare outside jousting plate... because they require specific tailoring, and normal muscle and fat changes can render them a poor fit.) And he's then got about 1 L of volume inside the armor, and it's at 1000 mBar before he inhales... and he's compressing it by 0.835 L, so it's now at 6000 mBar... So, knowing that he can only get to 1093mBar... he's only able to get about 85 mL of breath. Vol= 1L-(1L * 1093/1000).

To Recap: if he's relying upon his armor, he's moving only 85 mL of air due to pressure limits on volume expansion. He needs 500 mL for air, and 345 mL to clear the tube. He's rebreathing the same air until he hits CO2 suffocation. Dead in a few minutes, just like breathing into a plastic baggie.

Ok, a box...

So, he has a wooden slat leaving about 10L of extra space. He can now get about 850 mL... but that's 1.69 times the volume effort of surface. And so his rest isn't so good. And, because of having to fight the pressure, 1.093 times the pressure effort per unit volume... about 1.85 times the effort...

He's down, he's safe, and he's got some spare air... but he's got to move air in and out. He needs that tube to NOT connect to the airspace of his torso... otherwise, he's just moving air inside the chamber. So, he either needs a mask, or a mouthpiece.

And once he's got the mouthpiece, he's STILL working almost twice as hard.

So, to cure that, he adds a second chamber with a leather separator, and a second hose. He breaths in the 1L spare space around his head, with a single hose. his chest box gets a separate hose.... he now is able to move air in and out, without fighting the extra pressure, so it's now just the volume increase.

And that can be fought, too. Since we need a head box anyway, a second tube, both tubes having one way leather flapper valves. We can get the work effort down to about 1.02x the work...

But what about the cold?

The ground at 1m can vary widely in temperature by region, but in temperate climates, it's about 65°. In skin contact, that's a pretty good chiller. Dirt is a decent insulator - R 0.25 per inch... it'll take a while, but he's warm up the dirt and be cozy pretty quick.

If, however, the ground has permafrost... it might start below that. At which point, things start to go downhill. First off, if the permafrost is 1m below grade, as in much of Alaska, that means it's about -10°C (10°F)... you're not heating it up fast enough, you get hypothermia.

Still, overall, it's NOT a major thermal issue until it gets wet.

Psych!

The psychology of the guy is that he's dark, cool, unable to move, and working a little harder. This sounds like time for a fright check of some kind.

Note that small, dark, cool, enclosed spaces are not something mankind is well suited for. It causes fear. The rules don't say that, but the real world does. If he wants to have a flaw of agoraphobia, sure, let him... and then, when he's above ground and not in narrow places, he rolls at disadvantage.

If not, it's reasonable to require a Wis 15 save to get a restful sleep... but since being buried alive is a fearful thing, it's at disadvantage,and quite likely to fail often. And no rest creates...

And if he's fighting increased pressure, he's also likely to need a Con save to not count it as strenuous activity...

The math and physics imply he shouldn't normally get to count buried rest for long rests due to the increased work of breathing.

Other Bad Things

Bugs crawl down the pipe... and into his lungs.
Burrowers burrow into him.
Rain or poured water drowns him. The party doesn't dig him up in the morning - he dehydrates and dies. A bug or mouse crawls in and gets stuck. Suffocation. He dies. An elephant, rhino, troll, etc lies upon him with large ground pressure. He loses circulation to his feet, and gangrene may set in.

Bottom Line

So, as described, he suffocates from compression asphyxiation - he can't move enough dirt to get any air. Even with armor, he suffocates, because the air he's breathing out doesn't leave the tube, and gets right back in.

If he builds a shelter with a board, it's heavy, has to be braced up, and still increases the work, and preventing rest.

Even if he goes to the extreme of the two chamber box and 3 hoses, he's still got to fight the claustrophobia.

References

http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/dirt-mud-densities-d_1727.html
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/sciences/anatomy-and-physiology/the-respiratory-system/lung-volumes-and-capacities http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1501025/
http://inspectapedia.com/insulation/R-Value_of_Soil.php

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2  
+1 for MATH –  Bobson Aug 11 at 17:10

Honestly I wouldn't make a big deal of it, if he has fun doing it then let him do it. Encourage people to try novel ideas, not punish them for it.

However having said that, this idea has serious drawbacks and he should meet the consequences at some point. I wouldn't recommend using physics or similar though, it's D&D so people should die to monsters, traps or similar.

Let it go for a session or two, then drop a mention of burrowing monsters that are attacking people in the area as a rumour at a local pub.

Let it go another couple of sessions, then have the party attacked by the burrowing monsters.

Having the immobilised and trapped elf screaming for his friends to get him out while burrowing creatures attack him and the rest of the camp from below and at the same time...

...that's an experience he'll remember ;)

Don't do it all the time, don't make it a big deal, but so long as he keeps doing this then every now and then have them attacked in a way that will get him.

Oh and if there is a fight in the night keep track of where everyone goes, if in any round someone is on or passes through the square where his straw is then roll a D20 in plain view. On a 1 they crush his straw and block it totally, he's now holding his breathe. On a 2 or 3 they block it partially, he's struggling to breath and another roll of 3 or under will block it totally. Don't forget that you control the starting position of monster attacks, so you can position them that they will run through the area at least once ;)

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The other answers mainly focused on ways to break this defense. While that can be fun in moderation, you might want to think about the reasons he is going to this kind of extreme. Maybe he's challenging you to find a chink in the armor, but usually players develop defense mechanisms like this because they're tired of the consequences.

He's telling you he doesn't like night ambushes, and you should at least consider honoring that. Maybe the consequences of a night attack are larger for him than for other characters. Maybe it makes it too difficult to plan his daily resources. Maybe it's just a matter of pride to not like being caught unawares.

Your comment about him not getting XP or loot from night attacks makes them sound relatively frequent. In most of my groups, they might happen once or twice per campaign, and most people design their characters and plan their encounters accordingly. After all, the bad guys have to sleep sometime too. If you want night attacks to be more frequent, I would consider compensating the party somehow: removing armor and sleep penalties, letting them have daily resources back, provide NPC guards that hold them off long enough to give the PCs time to get ready, etc.

If it's truly only that one player that dislikes night attacks, you might want to help him get a better way to protect himself. An extra-dimensional tent or something like that. Sitting out of an encounter ought to be "punishment" enough.

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I can think of one good reason that this is a bad idea, and it's the only reason you need.

It wouldn't work.

Sure his body is protected from direct damage from everyone aboveground, but if someone or something is going to ambush the party at night, it takes only one clever sod kicking the straw over or stuffing it shut (And why would they do that? Because they see the straw and assume it's important to the party they're attacking, so they stuff it shut) or just one unlucky bash or trod from ANY monster could break the straw and now he's suffocating for at least an hour while they dig him out.

To say nothing of the added weight of any creature that walks over him at night. Really, he's only made himself more vulnerable by doing this.

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Other people have brought up using burrowing animals and creepy crawlies and the like against your sleeping character, there are come specific critters that come to mind.

ROT GRUBS!!! I'm regretting my decision to wear a mail t-shirt Figure 1. "Why didn't I pay extra for sleeves?!".

Don't kill the character outright, but waking up with an infestation of flesh maggots burrowing their way toward their heart might convince them it's not such a great idea. And maybe do it when the healer happens to not have a Cure Disease ready.

This player might persist and come up with a clever way to deal with Rot Grubs. Fine. Change critters. How about waking up to find yourself (and worse, your equipment) slowing being dissolved by Green Slime? Next night is fire ants. The next you find you swallowed a poisonous slug. Ensure the consequences go beyond simple healing spells, or that the rest of the party has to use up precious healing spells each morning. Make it horrible for the character and a problem for the party.

If your player fails to get the hint, and the other players continue to allow this behavior and haven't ditched him, make them ditch him. Engineer a night ambush where the party has to run away, perhaps they're attacked by something overwhelming, and do not have time to dig him up. Keep the party away from the site. Maybe a large army of Orcs decides to make camp right on top of him. Maybe somebody steps on the straw. Eventually, the baddies will notice the obviously freshly buried spot and think "treasure!" They won't be pleased when they dig up a filthy elf instead. Your problem character, only partially uncovered and possibly unconscious at this point from lack of air, will be easily subdued and captured.

Maybe the Orcs decide to have some fun with their burrowing Elf. Maybe they bury him up to his neck. Maybe they bury him upside down.

Either way, the party now has to rescue him (or finally decide to ditch him). Make this rescue a royal pain for the other players. Perhaps they have to use a lot of precious magic items.

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RE:

No specific rules for sleeping in armor I can use as a reference

http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/SRD:Armor_Qualities

Sleeping in Armor

A character who sleeps in medium or heavy armor is automatically fatigued the next day. He or she takes a –2 penalty on Strength and Dexterity and can’t charge or run. Sleeping in light armor does not cause fatigue.

These may not be from your version of DnD, but you can certainly reference them. It sounds like DnD 5e has streamlined some of the rules, but that just makes the DM's judgement more pertinent in strange situations like this.

Aside from the fact that he will suffocate because he can't breathe out the CO2 all the way from the long straw. And everything else mentioned above by others.

But it doesn't really matter in my opinion, it's just one of his character quirks and if it's not bothering the other players, let him have his fun, sounds like the John Malkovich character from the "Red" movies. You should be happy he is putting that much thought into just his character going to bed. Perhaps reward him with a magic item that does this, or have him seek one out, or develop a spell called "Earth Meld" or something. Maybe he learns it from a vampire/mage/werewolf... ;)

Having a few giants walk over his resting place could be fun though...

And having fun is the main thing.

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There are many reasons why it would be a bad idea to bury yourself, especially in a game rife with creatures that live under the ground, and the possibility of attack. Others have gone over the pros and cons of taking a dirt nap - I would like to point out ways to discourage this from happening.

Straws are weak

A breathing straw is not going to be able to handle a lot of trauma. If the party is attacked, chances are there will be a lot of feet trampling over that section of earth. Chances of his straw getting stomped on and rendered useless (or mostly useless) are very high. Roll a die in every battle, and check if someone stomped his breathing straw.

Bugs live there

Even outside the D&D universe, all manner of creepy-crawlies live underground. Getting buried next to an ant pile, in a snake nest, or near rodent tunnels would be an unpleasant experience at best, and a fatal one at worst.

Dirt is... dirty

A grass-covered field is one thing, but if he's buried three feet underground, he'll be under the topsoil layer, and thus in clay, silt, sand, or coarse rocks. Regardless of soil type, his armor and clothes will be completely full of it by the time he's dug up, which should be a major hit against charisma. It's hard to take someone seriously when they keep shaking mud out of their pants. Much worse would be the bacteria that live in dirt; any open wounds would be at enormous risk for infection.

Poor for storage

Even if a player can shrug off being dirty, his armor could not. When kept in close contact with damp soil, armor, weapons, tools, clothing, and anything else capable of degrading will undoubtedly rust, rot, or otherwise decay. Usually when things are stored underground, they are wrapped in material to limit the amount of moisture and air that can get to them - not an option he would have.

Flesh is soft

Finally, when it's time to dig him out, remember that "skin and bone" doesn't feel a lot different from "clay and rocks." Make a roll (or two) to see if someone accidentally chops off a few fingers trying to dig him up for the day.

Digging takes time

Digging a hole three feet deep and wide enough to "comfortably" fit a human is going to take some time - I can't find a good number, but the estimate seems to be for a hole that size, it would take one man at least two hours to dig. For harder soils or in heavily wooded areas, it could easily take double that time. Which means there may not be anyone left awake to fill it in for him, and he's stayed up half the night for nothing.

My strategy would be to add something every night that makes him rethink his decision: bugs in his sleeping pit, rain that keeps him awake (because he's cold and soaked), rusted weapons and armor, and so on. He will, undoubtedly, try to work around these problems, and in doing so will take increasingly more time to prepare. Eventually, he will either give up, or will only spend an hour or two asleep each night. Then again, he may come up with a surprisingly good solution and convince everyone else to bury themselves each night, too.

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+1 for being the only answer in my quick skim that mentions how long doing this would take. Plus also what would happen when the other people don't feel like covering him up every day. –  durron597 Aug 15 at 14:40

It is a REALLY bad idea due to: Weight. One cubic feet of dirt (dry) is roughly 76 lbs. One cubic feet of mud however is 115 lbs. Ok, he buries himself 3 feet deep. He is like 6 feet tall, and needs an average 1 feet wide hole. That is 18 cubic feet of dirt on top of him. That is roughly equivalent of 1368 lbs of crushing force if the dirt is dry, and 2070 after it is all the way soaked through.

Start rolling for crushing damage next time he does this thing. If you have no such thing then use falling damage chart for 18 feet, and it is applied every round...

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What about rigid armour? Wouldn't prevent it most damage? –  Flamma Aug 10 at 13:46
3  
Physics bugfix: pressure isn't equal to weight. To get pressure from weight, divide by surface area (18 feet square); now you have the crushing force (115 pounds per square foot for mud) and can continue napkin-calculating from there. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 10 at 17:54

Perhaps the simplest of all answers is to... ignore it. Are night raids critical to the story? If not, and the other players have no problem with this digging arrangement, let them continue to do it and simply don't throw any more troll food at him. Nothing of consequence happens overnight, or if it does, it's in a place where he can't bury himself (they're staying at an inn for example).

Sure the idea sounds ludicrous, and I don't see a better word for it than "trolling," but the best way to get rid of a troll is to simply ignore them. Throwing in midnight encounters that he gets to ignore seems like it hurts him but he's made it obvious it doesn't. He's a classic troll. If you feel you really must do something about it (trust me, I'd have a hard time not messing with him too), impose some sort of modifier based on the other arguments presented here. Like penalties for exhaustion due to not sleeping comfortably/at all/in a dangerous environment. Leave it at that, so he's constantly handicapped by it. Then when he realizes he's being handicapped and gaining absolutely no benefit from it, you get to give him the troll face!

Please keep in mind I only suggest this because you say he's a good friend. I probably wouldn't do any sort of sadistic counter-trolling operation in a more formal group!

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Since you know that he's trying to be silly, it's best to fight this with silliness. The reason that buying himself is a bad idea is because it renders him helpless when the dire naked mole rats come through, looking for a place to dig their tunnels. They can't get through his armor, perhaps, but the poking, chittering, and screech of claws on metal mean that he's not going to actually get any sleep.

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why do you mention that the mole rats naked? Aren't all animals likely to be so? –  Simanos Aug 30 at 11:04
1  
The naked mole rat is a specific species of animal. It's hairless, which is why they call it naked, but the name makes it funnier. –  The Spooniest Aug 30 at 13:19
    
Then they should call it the hairless mole rat! :p Wars have been started over less misunderstandings you know... –  Simanos Aug 30 at 13:32

This may be trolling in the culture of your circle, but this could just as easily be a totally legitimate, savvy move, with grave consequences that will begin now or later. Your job as GM is to make sure things that are too clever do have consequences, and there's no particular reason those consequences need to happen now. So, let him.

What I'm thinking: Will his party members still trust him? Perhaps when it comes time to carry some important artifact, even though the buried member is ideal for some reason (e.g. he's a Hobbit and more immune to The Ring), he simply can't be trusted not to bail. Perhaps the group must split up and one person gets a clearly less desirable task - of course the group will force the a**hole down that road (not to spite the meta-game troll, but because their characters have become suspicious of him).

For every short term, clever, snarky gain; there is a long term character loss. You can try playing this dynamic for a very rich game. But if that's not your thing and you just want out of this trap so the troupe can function normally again, there's plenty of good suggestions in these answers.

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