As a follow-up to this thread, I have a couple of additional questions about creature with burrow speeds, and grappling/swallowing/suffocating hapless adventurers.

To help answer this question, here is the entry for Burrow speeds from the MM:

A monster that has a burrowing speed can use that speed to move through sand, earth, mud, or ice. A monster can't burrow through solid rock unless it has a special trait that allows it to do so.

Tim, for the purpose of these scenarios, is your average human adventurer without any special movement abilities. He is corporeal, resides on the Material Plane, has no fly/swim/burrow speed, and is currently not affected by any magic.

Now, my questions:

  1. An earth elemental is standing on solid rock. It grapples Tim, and then uses its Earth Glide ability to move into the solid rock, attempting to bring Tim with it. What happens?

    (According to the previous thread, the elemental would continue into the ground but Tim would be stopped.)

  2. An earth elemental is standing on loose dirt. It grapples Tim. It does not activate its Earth Glide ability, but instead uses its 30ft Burrow speed to move with Tim 15 feet directly down into the dirt, and then leaves him there. Does this work?

    • Same as 2, but the terrain is solid ice instead of loose dirt. Does this work?

    • Same as 2, but Tim is wearing a Ring of Earth Elemental Command, and has unlocked its additional properties, allowing him to move through solid earth or rock as if it was difficult terrain. If he could not be brought into the ground before, can he be now?

  3. A purple worm is in loose sand. It uses its Bite action, and swallows Tim whole. It then burrows 30 feet directly down using its movement. On Tim's turn, he deals 30 damage to the worm from inside of it, and it regurgitates him. Where does Tim exit, and does he begin to suffocate?

    • Same as 3, but the terrain is solid ice instead of loose sand. Where does Tim exit, and does he begin to suffocate?
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I think #4 and 5 might be different enough to separate them into their own question. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6, 2019 at 20:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do any creatures' burrow abilities specify whether or not they leave a tunnel behind them as they move? That could be important in answering. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6, 2019 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haha, I guessed you were also part of stack overflow when I saw you started with question 0 instead of question 1. \$\endgroup\$
    – Juicetin
    Mar 6, 2019 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson : The Purple Worm's Tunneler ability explicitly states that it leaves behind a 10-foot tunnel. However, this is already an exception in that it refers to solid rock, not the sand/earth/dirt that is typical for the Burrow movement type. \$\endgroup\$
    – mjsch
    Mar 7, 2019 at 0:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Given that some questions are essentially "sub-questions" of others, I've reorganized them a bit (which resulted in changing the numbers). Please check to make sure this is okay. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Mar 7, 2019 at 1:11

1 Answer 1



noun : a hole or excavation in the ground made by an animal (such as a rabbit) for shelter and habitation

transitive verb 2 a : to construct by tunneling

intransitive verb 2 a : to make a burrow b : to progress by or as if by digging

When a creature burrows, it leaves a hole. Whether that hole remains open or collapses behind the creature depends on the material it is made in and, in effect, DM fiat.

This is a burrow made by burrowing (specifically burrowing by a wombat):

enter image description here

Question 0: As stated, the Earth Elemental cannot bring anyone along when it Earth Glides - the grapple ends.

Question 1: Yes. Tim is now at the bottom of a 15-foot deep hole that may or may not be collapsing on him. "Dirt" is a term that covers everything from thick clay to fine sand and whether it collapses or not depends on the angle of repose of the substance, or, more relevantly, if the DM says it does or doesn't.

Question 2: Yes. See above.

Question 3: No. "You can move ..." is not the same as "You can be moved ..."

Question 4: This is Question 1 except the hole is 30-feet deep.

Question 5: This is Question 2 except the hole is 30-feet deep.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ In 3.5, burrowing is described as "[not leaving] behind tunnels other creatures can use (either because the material they tunnel through fills in behind them or because they do not actually dislocate any material when burrowing.)" I know it's a previous edition, but I don't think we can take the dictionary definition of burrowing at face value here. Especially considering that a purple worm's burrowing method is to "consume earth and rock, which it breaks down and constantly excretes." That doesn't sound like it would leave a usable tunnel. \$\endgroup\$
    – mjsch
    Mar 7, 2019 at 0:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that some questions were essentially "sub-questions" of others, I've reorganized them a bit (which resulted in changing the numbers). You may want to edit your answer accordingly (or wait to do so until after the OP has confirmed they're okay with the change). \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Mar 7, 2019 at 1:12
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @theCerealKillr I think that dragging 3.5 into it may be a red herring, or a even fish out of water, as a line of inquiry or comparison as regards this 5e question. The little and big changes between editions very often make for some strikingly different interpretations. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2019 at 2:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @theCerealKillr and Fate describes "Fate dice" and Apocalypse World describes "moves" - they are just as relevant to D&D %e as D&D 3.5 is. Not at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Granted. I probably shouldn't have used an example from 3.5 But my point is remains - dictionary definition alone is not sufficient to determine whether "Burrowing" in 5e leaves a hole or not. Especially when there are multiple answers to that question within the definition itself. "To construct by tunneling" may leave a hole but "to progress as if by digging" may not. \$\endgroup\$
    – mjsch
    Mar 7, 2019 at 4:35

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .