Gearing up for delving down: Dungeon-crawling tips for TFT

“There is no need to build a labyrinth when the entire universe is one.”

― Jorge Luis Borges

It has been said many times that the Fantasy Trip is NOT D&D, and is not played the same way as D&D. It rose from the tactical combat skirmish games of Melee/Wizard and does not have the attrition and resource management aspects so prevalent in D&D and its offspring. That makes prolonged conflicts like dungeon-crawling much more difficult as wounds are harder to heal and casting spells physically drains the casters.

But harder doesn’t mean impossible. This started us thinking about how a group could explore an old-school mega-dungeon within the spirit and rules of the Fantasy Trip, rather than short intensive excursions followed by a retreat to home base to heal wounds and recover spells. Note that this discussion is limited to surviving the hazards of the dungeon environment, not fighting off whatever you might find down there.

One of the biggest differentiators is TFT’s reliance on Talents rather than class skills and abilities like old-school D&D. You don’t have to be a thief to spot a trap or dedicate yourself to being a ranger just to follow tracks. Many skills like these, or Engineer, Climbing, Locksmith, Silent Movement, and Recognize Value would be of great help inside a vast underground complex. Even simple Mundane Talents like Miner, Porter, or Scribe could be leveraged, or even Area Knowledge of caverns and the like. Unlike games like D&D, race in the Fantasy Trip has little bearing on one’s ability to thrive underground. Orcs might feel more at home, and dwarves might appreciate the stonework a little more, but there are no distinct advantages to be had by choosing any specific race.

Mundane dungeoneering tools should not be overlooked, and many are included in the off-the-shelf labyrinth kit. Rope, spikes, flint, and a pole can be very useful, as can lightweight gear like candles, chalk, paper, and a mirror. Likewise, food, water, torches, and tools for maintaining equipment should not be carried. Spare items like scroll cases, bottles, and sacks should also be packed to help carry the loot home.

Healing magic is not nearly as easy to come by in TFT either. And neither is the amount of damage a character can take. Talents like Physicker (and Master Physicker) take on great value when no other healing is available. Both the Master Physicker and Alchemist can also make healing potions, and a well-equipped delving group should be carrying as many as they can.

Even so, the clever delvers probably shouldn’t take on every adversary they stumble on underground. Not every ogre in a cave must be defeated to reach your goal, and most giant oozes are not covering pits filled with silver coins. Knowing when to strike and when to hide is the key to long-term survival.

This brings up another major need of a TFT dungeon crawler — resting. Limited healing resources will leave figures with wounds, and treating them takes time. Worse, magic is physically taxing and wizards can find themselves exhausted without facing a single sword slash. You could simply clear a chamber and call it a day, but labyrinths are inherently dangerous places and enemy monsters (or merely hungry ones) will constantly threaten resting heroes.

Conceivably, the group could find an uninhabited alcove in the labyrinth, seal themselves off with magical Walls, and use Open Tunnel to escape when rested, but that is an extreme case.

Keeping a watch is all but a requirement while resting, and abilities like Acute Hearing and Alertness are very helpful. Magic can make your holdouts much safer as well. Lock, Conceal, and Ward all can make a group’s hiding place less likely to be invaded. Cleanse Poison, Minor Medicament, and Meal can help offset dungeon dangers and provide for the group’s physical needs as well. One problem with spells in TFT is limited duration. Most are designed for a single combat encounter and would be impossible to maintain long-term. One possible solution is the addition of Ceremonial Spellcasting, a slower, more complex version of spells that extends their duration to hours. This type of wizardry only seems to work on passive spells and requires greater concentration and materials that make them unsuited for combat.

Revised 5/2/23

New IQ8 Talent: Ceremonial Spellcasting (2)
Prerequisite: Literacy.  Costing the same for both heroes and wizards, this is a talent for using tomes and rituals to cast spells. Ceremonial spells take 5 minutes to cast, and cost twice the ST of their shorter-term versions. For example, a ceremonial casting of Shadow would cost 2ST and last one hour before needing to be maintained (also for 2ST). A stocked wizard’s chest is required for Ceremonial Spellcasting, or the wizard has a -2adjDX penalty. Typical ceremonial spells include Dark Vision, Darkness, Close Vision, Far Vision, Detect Life, and Detect Enemies. Ceremonial spells are fragile and fickle. A ceremonial version of Invisibility is possible but is broken if the target moves. Likewise, a ceremonial Magic Fist can stir pots and sweep floors but vanishes if used as a weapon. Ceremonial spells, like most enchantments, are subject to the Rule of Five.

Other helpful dungeon spells are utilities like Detect Magic, Light, Reveal/Conceal, Mage Sight, Pathfinder, and Unnoticeability. Summon Scout can help you see around corners get the drop on those who might try and ambush you.

Some spells, like Repair, Soothe, or Fresh Air, are more situational but might be game-changing if they could be stored on a scroll or in a grimoire. And if you are an advanced practitioner, Dissolve Enchantment, Regenerate, Cleansing, and Revival can alter many an untimely end. Finally, Long-distance Teleport can be an excellent last resort for a wizard and at least one companion.

Mind you, all magic drains strength and could endanger the wizard (and their companions). A wise dungeon delver would carry a Staff charged with as much ST as they can. Powerstones can provide additional strength in emergencies, but probably will not be able to be recharged until the group retreats.

Beyond healing potions and powerstones, there are many listed magic items well suited for underground exploration. Almost any potion can be helpful, and scrolls can supplement a wizard’s spell choices. Brands ($60, ITL p.156) provide light as well as smokeless fire. A holdfast spike ($2000, ITL p.156) can help you get around or stop enemies from getting to you. The Red Ladder ($10,000, ITL p.158) is pricy but serves many purposes in a labyrinth.

Next up: find out what an underground entrepreneur has to offer to make the most of your labyrinthine excursions!


  1. Reading your blog is always a pleasure. Thank you, and keep it coming!

    Regarding ceremonial magic, I’d rather see Ceremonial Spellcasting as either a talent or a handicap than a separate spell laid on top of other spells. Anyone interested in ceremonial magic might give _GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic_ a look; it has excellent ideas for adding astrological and material “trappings” to add flavor and perhaps even bonuses to the ritual.

    • It’s true it works more like a wizardry talent than a spell. But you could say the same thing about Staff II through V, Lesser and Greater Magic Item Creation and Weapon/Armour Enchantment. The RAW convention is that wizard talents are called spells. And while I might like to change that, it isn’t Ceremonial Spellcasting’s job.

      • I am starting to agree. Also, if it were a talent it could be interesting to have a ceremonialist that could only cast from books or scrolls.

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