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Does a monster burrowing through stone or earth leave a tunnel?

For example could an Adult Blue Dragon just burrow 30 feet to be near invulnerable until it comes out? Or could a fighter jump down the hole it made?

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3 Answers 3

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The monster will usually disturb the material it burrows through.

Consider the Earth Elemental:

Earth Glide: The elemental can Burrow through nonmagical, unworked earth and stone. While doing so, the elemental doesn't disturb the material it moves through.

The Earth Elemental (and the Xorn monster) can just glide through earth with its Burrow speed, without disturbing it. Monsters without such exception are assumed to disturb their environment.

Reading the Burrow rules:

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.

Monsters like the Purple Worm and Umber Hulk have the ability to burrow through solid rock, and specifically leave a tunnel behind them:

Purple Worm: The worm can burrow through solid rock at half its burrow speed and leaves a 10·foot·diameter tunnel in its wake.

Tunneler. The umber hulk can burrow through solid rock at half its burrowing speed and leaves a 5 foot-wide, 8-foot-high tunnel in its wake.

Others, like the Ankheg and your exemplary Blue Dragon, also leave tunnels behind them. However, it depends on the environment whether the tunnels remain, or immediately collapse.

Earthen Tunnels. As it burrows through earth, the ankheg leaves a narrow, partially collapsed tunnel in its wake.

Blue dragons make their lairs in barren places, using their [...] burrowing ability to carve out crystallized caverns and tunnels beneath the sands. A blue dragon will collapse the caverns that make up its lair if that lair is invaded. The dragon then burrows out, leaving its attackers to be crushed and suffocated.

The dragon clearly has the capacity to create standing tunnels, but also to burrow out while leaving no chance of escape to unlucky adventurers.

Whether monsters leave a clear tunnel behind them, or the ground collapses behind them to block their path is environment- and DM-dependent. I would rule that, in lose sand, the hole would be covered. In hard ground, a tunnel would be left behind. In lose mud (like a mountain side), rocks would collapse and cover the tunnel again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the visual references. I went ahead and edited the links so that the videos start at the time with the relevant burrowing. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 29, 2019 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidCoffron Nice touch, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 29, 2019 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting, I'd rule that no tunnel is ever left behind when burrowing. Leaving a tunnel behind requires either (a) pushing the material to the sides or (b) carrying the material up to the entrance and dumping it. (a) seems pretty unlikely -- why would the "compressed" material not decompress into the tunnel when nature hates a vacuum? -- and (b) would not happen in combat. Consider a typically burrowing mammal such as the mole: mole hills are the result of the mole "pushing out" the material to leave the tunnel behind. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2019 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. I agree it doesn't always make sense. The Purple Worm swallows the tunnel it digs. The others, I guess, are just magic :P \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 30, 2019 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure Earth Glide is meant to evade Tremorsense, & in any event, "disturbed material" doesn't necessarily or implicitly mean there's a tunnel leftover; just that the material has been upturned. In D&D, things don't usually do something unless they say they do. The Purple Worm & Umber Hulk specifically leave tunnels; I see no indication that other burrowers do unless specified. Digging as an action & burrowing as movement are not generally the same & I see no evidence of a specific rule or general intent, to this effect. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 7, 2021 at 8:21
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Ask yourself one question: As the creature digs where does the dug up material go? The answer is usually right behind them. They are burrowing a hole to move themselves, not excavating. Meaning there are good odds the hole has filled in directly behind them.

Unless otherwise noted, one should assume the recently burrowed material ends up immediately behind the creature. There are monsters that have explicit caveats regarding their ability to leave a tunnel (like the Purple Wyrm and the Umber Hulk).

Sometimes Physics also plays a part in this too. An Adult White Dragon burrowing a hole straight upward into the roof of their ice cavern lair will have the dug out ice fall down into the Cavern. Conversely if the Dragon burrows laterally then the dug up left overs of the burrowing remain in the space directly behind the hole they burrow.

Each situation has the ability to be different and should be considered by the DM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure why you are getting downvoted. Absent specific abilities as noted in the description, I would also assume that real physics apply: burrowing does not magically "remove" the material. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 30, 2019 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ "There are monsters that have explicit caveats [...] (like the Purple Wyrm and the Umber Hulk)." The fact that your comment specified this exception, and its physics-based/common-sense–based approach, makes it a great answer overall. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandra
    Dec 1, 2019 at 9:44
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Storm King’s Thunder pg 226 reads:

A burrowing creature (such as a blue dragon) can move through the collapsed area at its burrowing speed, leaving no tunnel in its wake as the sand fills in behind it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While illustrative, this is a special rule that overrules the movement rules of monsters that would leave a tunnel behind. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jan 16, 2023 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is your reference? \$\endgroup\$
    – Bryan
    Jan 16, 2023 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Read what an umber hulk's monster entry is. Then what a Purple Worm has. Blue Dragon. Ankheg. All of these literally say that they leave a tunnel of various shape behind. That rule is overruled in SKT that the material there isn't stable enough for that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jan 16, 2023 at 0:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Bryan, take the tour when you have a moment. I have downvoted this answer because it presents what appears to be a rule while leaving out some very important context that makes it largely irrelevant to this question. The portion of SKT that you quote refers to a very specific collapsible section of a dragon's lair, meaning it isn't applicable anywhere else, and that very same section even tells us about how Iymrith's burrowing leaves tunnels behind her. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 16, 2023 at 0:49

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