Tunnels and crawlspaces are fun. They poke that same childhood nostalgia button as ball pits do.
They are a strong scene divider because they require players to stop, change body posture, and proceed forward in a different fashion.
As with so many different aspects of escape room design, there are some good, bad, and potentially dangerous ways to design crawlspaces. Let’s explore them.
I love a good crawl… my knees? Not so much.
Frankly, I and so so so many other players are thrilled to trade a little realism for some comfort. Pad the floor of your crawlspace.
Also it’s not a bad idea to round off or pad the corners of the crawlspace entryway and exit. Speaking of head injuries…
Your tunnel should be the same size on both ends. Keep the crawlspace height consistent throughout the tunnel (unless there is a climb or some other deliberately designed obstacle that is clear and visible).
Recently I had to scurry through a dark crawlspace that had height variation. It was fine going one way…
Going back, however, I missed a critical detail of the tunnel’s design:
It’s all fun and games until someone loses some brain cells.
Transitioning scenes under pressure can be good fun. That said, I strongly dissuade you from adding artificial tension during a crawling segment.
Adults can really hurt knees, backs, and heads if they aren’t accustomed to crawling or are required to do so in a hurry. It’s also worth noting that not everyone is up for it.
You should have a way for some players to bypass crawling segments.
In the United States, if you don’t have a way of bypassing crawling sections, you’re probably in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Take this one seriously.
The easy bypass technique: have a door that can be immediately opened once one person has crawled through to the other side. This is an elegant solution because anyone who wants to crawl can do so and anyone who isn’t into crawling or cannot crawl doesn’t miss out on much.
Halloween is over, there is no reason to post scary images like the one of you crawling through a tunnel. Now I’m gonna have nightmares… 😉
It is also not so much fun when playing while wearing shorts. Padding is definitely appreciated then!
And crawling through sand or gravel is definitely bad.
For me, the most enjoyable crawls occur higher than floor level. Especially if you have to go back and forth. About knee high is a comfortable height.
The tip about tunnels being the same height throughout is key even when you don’t have to crawl. I recall a transitional feature where crawling was not required, but prolonged stooping was necessary. Anytime you have to beware of overhead hazards it makes sense not to add too many opportunities to scalp your scalp.
Dead-end rooms at the end of crawls–or any sort of small passage or door–without a normal sized bypass door are also in violation of building code egress requirements, as they do not have a proper fire exit.
Besides the legal angle (this can get the entire facility shut down until remedied), this is legitimately dangerous. Please do not do this.
Great article – enjoyed it very much.
Our tunnel section is decent size with padding and bumper guards to protect against head bangs like you mentioned. On the other side of the tunnel is a maze with an electronic lock exit door that is exited. When designing ours, we made it so we could kill the power to the lock on the exit door from the control room, unlocking it instantly. (There is an interior switch for participants to unlock it themselves, allowing other participants who did not enter the tunnel to enter from the opposite direction.
Additionally, I recommend having battery back-up safety lighting (in case power goes out and your tunnel/maze becomes pitch black with guests inside) along with security cameras for monitoring participants in this section.