Dug Too Deep

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to work we g-OH CRAP, IT'S A BALROG!![1]

"Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world. Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear."

A mining operation unleashes the Sealed Evil in a Can. The Trope Namer is of course The Lord of the Rings, and it seems this happens a lot with little variation because Our Dwarves Are All the Same. A mine filled with evil is one of the great traditional Dungeons. Also, evil from mines have so many themes. You've got Greed and it can be a Green Aesop too!

See also King in the Mountain—accidentally finding him before the country's hour of need can be dangerous.

Can result in an Abandoned Mine.

Do not confuse with Enemy Mine, when you and your enemy team up to face the Conflict Killer, or Digging Yourself Deeper, which is for awkward one-way conversations.

Examples of Dug Too Deep include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • The creature in the 2008 Wolverine annual "Roar" was unleashed when a town suffering from a drought dug for groundwater where it was lurking.
  • Clive Barker's Rawhead Rex. Granted, he wasn't buried very deep.
  • In the original run of Swamp Thing, Kentucky coal miners accidentally awoke an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe miniseries Jedi Academy: Leviathan is all about this trope.


  • Rodan was unleashed on Japan by miners breaking into a sealed chamber and allowing the egg to hatch. Not to mention the giant Meganulon caterpillars that were also in there.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers has construction workers unearthing Ivan Ooze.
  • The dragons in Reign of Fire were discovered by underground construction workers as well.
  • Possibly in Galaxy Quest: "Where are the miners?"
  • The title creatures in The Boogens were initially released due to gold mining in the 1920s. After sixty years the attacks restart when the mining starts again.
  • Played with in Aliens vs. Predator. The Predators dug out the Alien temple in the arctic, but they did it on purpose. They use it to hatch aliens inside humans for sport hunting.
  • Appears in The Descent Part 2. Apparently, many years before the events of the film a mining operation dug just too deep.
  • The eponymous creatures in the SyFy Channel Original Movie Mongolian Death Worm are unearthed by an oil company drilling in the deserts of Mongolia.
  • Implied to be the source of Perfection's Graboid infestation in Tremors 4, in which Wild West miners uncover "dirt dragon" eggs and unwittingly allow them to revive.


  • The Lord of the Rings: The Balrog was found when the Dwarves of Moria "delved too greedily and too deep." It was Sealed Evil in a Can, but then they woke it up, and it wiped out their kingdom.
    • One of Jason Fox's ideas for "How Disney could improve its movies" went like this:

Dwarves: We dig-dig-dig and dig-dig-dig and mine the whole day through...
Grumpy: Balrog!

  • In Desperation by Stephen King, Chinese Miners dig too deep and uncover the dwelling of Tak, a sadistic, insane, body-snatching horror from beyond our world.
  • Warhammer 40,000, Ciaphas Cain example: A Necron base was discovered under a Prometheum Foundry. The Foundry was placed there deliberately to dig them up "accidentally."
    • Another Necron base was found in an asteroid mine. Cain suspected, but as there were also tyranids attacking the asteroid, they got the blame for the deaths of the miners. It seems likely the 'nids actually arrived after just about all the humans were dead.
    • The same thing happened in the Space Marine novel "The Fall of Damos". The Adeptus Mechnicus dug up necron ruins, collected artifacts and did not tell anyone else about it. Some time later the awakened necrons slaughtered most of the human population and were only halted by the Ultramarines.
  • Subverted in The Last Continent, where a well-digger remarks that if they dig much deeper, they'll give an elephant a nasty surprise. The Discworld, of course, is balanced on the backs of four huge turtle-riding elephants.
    • In the same novel, an opal miner uncovers the Luggage — not technically evil, but no-one stuck around to check.
  • In the Simon R. Green novel Blue Moon Rising the inhabitants of a mining town Dug Too Deep just as the Big Bad awakened. By the time the heros get there it is far, far too late for anything except revenge.
  • Streams of Silver by R. A. Salvatore: manages to combine both Moria and The Hobbit, because the dwarves dug too deep and thereby somehow allowed access to a shadow dragon that drove them from their home.
  • Miners uncover a dragon in Elizabeth Bear's story "Orm the Beautiful".
  • Annerton Pit by Peter Dickinson: According to local legends, miners working in the Annerton pit unleashed something deep underground that killed almost all of them.
  • In The Culture science fiction "Matter" by Iain M. Banks, an industrial civilization living inside an artificial world digs up an ancient alien artefact. To communicate with it they get help from a more advanced alien civilization that think the artefact is a member of the species that built the world. Actually it turns out the be their enemy. After waking up it promptly nukes the site of the dig along with a mining town of a hundred thousand people and flies off to the core of the world to make enough antimatter to blow it up.
  • Tendrils by Harry Adam Knight has geologists drill right into an Eldritch Abomination. Consumption of random people ensues, understandably.
  • Not exactly evil but what is released by Professor Challenger's experiment in When the World Screamed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is certainly catastrophic for all involved.
  • Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Scientists digging for a detected source of power in the Age of Legends released the Dark One, which directly and indirectly destroyed their civilization.
  • Invoked Trope in The Heroes of Olympus. Gaea forces Hazel to use her powers to revive Alcyoneus. After realizing this, Hazel buryed herself along with Alcyoneus to postpone Gaea's plans.

Live-Action TV

  • Subverted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Devil in the Dark". A monster starts attacking a group of miners after they enter a new level. It turns out to be a Mama Bear protecting her eggs (silicon nodules), which were being destroyed by the mining operation. Fortunately, she's a very reasonable Mama Bear and Kirk and Spock are able to resolve the situation with a mutually agreeable compromise.
  • Doctor Who in "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit." The title of the latter should explain it all...
    • A drill to tap a new fuel source in Inferno instead unleashes a substance that transforms people into bloodthirsty beasts, and the destruction of a parallel world the Doctor is trapped on for the duration of the serial.
    • Subverted in the two-parter "The Hungry Earth"/"Cold Blood"—the Silurians they dig up are (mostly) not hostile towards humans, but are simply trying to defend themselves against the drill, which threatens to destroy their life support systems. They're quite willing to negotiate peace with the humans. Unfortunately, Fantastic Racism on both sides prevent the negotiations from succeeding.
  • On Lexx, an Asteroid Miner scouting a test shaft in a small planetoid is possessed by an alien essence, which proceeds to Body Surf while building a 20,000-planet theocracy around itself.
  • On Lost, the group of scientists known as the Dharma Initiative uncovered an electro-magnetic hot spot by drilling into the ground, causing a disaster that would result in a hatch being built with a button that would have to be pushed every 108 minutes in order to keep things from going to crap, the failure to push said button eventually causing the crash of Oceanic flight 815.
  • Used a few times on The X-Files, usually with geologists whose explorations unleash a hibernating Monster of the Week. Another episode, in which loggers sawed too deep into a really ancient tree and released a swarm of killer bugs, could be considered a variant.
  • A re-imagined The Outer Limits episode has a group of miners blast into an ancient cave containing a dinosaur fossil and a crapload of worms that quickly infest the miners and, shortly after, the whole town. Luckily, they hate light and need salt to survive.
  • When Mock the Week covered a potential funeral for Margaret Thatcher, Frankie Boyle suggested that "For £3,000,000 we could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we would dig a hole so deep that we could hand her over to Satan personally."


  • The Gorillaz song "Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head".

"The Strangefolk, they coveted the jewels in these caves above all things, and soon they began to mine the mountain...as the Strangefolk mined deeper and deeper into the mountain, holes began to appear, bringing with them a cold and bitter wind that chilled the very soul...And then came a sound. Distant first, it grew into castrophany so immense it could be heard far away in space. There were no screams. There was no time. The mountain called Monkey had spoken."

Tabletop Games

  • Judges Guild adventure Dark Tower (1980). A village was buried during a great battle between the forces of the deities Set and Mitra. After a hundred years of digging, searchers found the buried village, and discovered that someone was tunnelling up to meet them. Eventually the old village's inhabitants went mad and slaughtered the inhabitants of the new village built on top of the old one.
  • Used quite well in B10: Night's Dark Terror, a Basic D&D campaign module, where the breakage of columns in a natural cavern unleashed an uncommonly-nasty monstrous mutant spider. Do NOT touch its webbing...'
  • Mentioned in the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition Dungeon Master's Guide. On the table "One hundred adventure ideas", number 12 is "Miners have accidentally released something awful that once was buried deep."
  • The D&D Ravenloft setting runs into this on occasion. It seems that digging too deep can open up a tunnel out of your domain and into another. Unfortunately, that other domain is full of illithids... Or possibly something that already ate the illithids.
  • The New World of Darkness supplement Midnight Roads provides a couple of samples of this - something living in the silver mine at the edge of a hidden community of illegal immigrants, or the "Hole to Hell", an abandoned mining tunnel in the side of a mountain that's full of voices pointing out a person's shortcomings.
  • Lone Wolf: An immortal monster was kept imprisoned by the special ore in the rock around it. Very, very valuable ore. Which was dug up by dwarves, thus releasing the ancient evil (which happened to be a servant of the Big Bad from the elder days), which set about destroying the dwarves' underground kingdom.
  • In the Fighting Fantasy book Portal of Evil, which is set during a gold rush, miners unwittingly uncovered an Artifact of Doom in the form of an ancient portal to a Lost World. The portal is sentient and causes those to pass through to transform into zombie-like slaves to its will. Or prehistoric mammals. Or dinosaurs.


  • Bionicle: Onu-Koroan miners dug too deep and eventually hit an indestructible layer of semi-organic rock. Beneath it, lies Makuta's lair and the Bohrok Hive. It also turns out to be Mata Nui's face .

Video Games

  • In the free flash game,Armor Mayhem, the player's company, which was red, dug deep into the game's locale, only to discover living caves and corridors. Still, they dug deeper. Smart business decisions.
  • The Penumbra series heavily implied this in Overture but outright stated so in Black Plague that the source of all the deaths and strange creatures was the Tuuurngait, an otherworldly hive mind alien creature which shared its knowledge with the Inuits until humans became corrupt. The Turungait then dug into the earth and remained peacefully sealed away until the main until it was disturbed first accidentally by miners, then intentionally by The Archaic
  • The entire premise of third person shooter series Gears of War revolves around the government mining the crap out of resources and unleashing a horrible plague of locusts. The locusts in this case aren't small bugs that mercilessly devour crops: they're pale man-sized monsters. And in Gears of War 3 from the trailer we learn that there is something far worse than the locusts living underneath.
  • Freelancer. Explorers visiting the Omicron Major system awoke the Nomads which possessed them, hitched a ride to human space, and tried to exterminate us.
  • Torchlight's Ember miners dug into a whole maze of buried civilizations, necropolises and Lost Worlds.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved The Covenant are responsible for unleashing the Flood after exploring Halo's secrets. As the Monitor explains "their kind seems most persistent in accessing restricted areas". They do it again in Halo 2, with even worse results.
  • Tales of Phantasia. Part of the game sees you access the abandoned Morlia Mineshaft, recently discovered. When you travel to the future, you can access the end once more and go even further, to the Dwarven Ruins--the game's optional dungeon.
  • Dragon Quest IV (this one was the humans' fault)
  • In the lowest pits of Star Fox Adventures's Darkice Mines lurks the Galdon.
  • In Dwarf Fortress, mining for adamantine may uncover the place whence the veins radiate from. It contains glowing pits of doom and other fun things. Of course, this being Dwarf Fortress, you can give this Sealed Evil in a Can a thorough thrashing... or, more likely, die trying.
    • Taken Up to Eleven in the latest release, where mining to the very bottom of the map (which frequently involves passing caverns filled with hostile creatures and finding a way to get through a magma ocean or three) will result in you breaking through into Hell itself.
      • And now that's been taken to its natural conclusion, as one player has now built a fucking colony in Hell.
      • The succession game Deathgate takes this one step further.
      • Hell Science has been taken to its logical conclusion at last with the fortress Swordthunders: the glowing pits were sealed, hell was completely walled off, and used to grow strawberries. Then it was flooded with magma.
  • Might And Magic 7, the dwarf tunnels.
  • In the computer game Temple Of Apshai (1979), part of the backstory was that greedy people tried to excavate the buried temple of the Apshaians, releasing the evils hidden inside.
  • Legend of Mana has two of these: the mine in Gato Grotto and the Ulkan Mines.
  • In Sonic Unleashed a monster is sealed in the core of the planet, prompting Eggman to crack open the Earth's crust in order to set it free.
  • Absolute Zero has a mining operation on Europa unearthing (Er? Something like that) a buried race of belligerent aliens that immediately attack. With nothing else to use, the colony repurposes mining tools into weaponry.
    • Ditto Dead Space, except the mining operation just unearthed an artifact that turns corpses into belligerent aliens.
  • Guild Wars has the Deep, where miners in search of high quality jade unearthed a powerful demon. The demon drove them mad, and now claims dominion over the Deep and its corrupted denizens.
    • Also, in Nightfall, Kormir's excavation into Fahranur awakened the Apocrypha, which helped weaken Abaddon's prison further.
  • This is so common in Avernum that it's considered an inevitable result of mining. Usually, crypts full of undead turn up, but ancient ruins aren't unheard of.
  • In The Way, a mining operation results in a demonic outbreak.
  • The fall of the Nerubian Empire in Warcraft is attributed to this. This underground empire of anthropomorphic spiders waged war against the Undead sent by the Lich King. As they lost land, they dug deeper until they reached the zone of influence of Yogg-Saron. Beset from two sides, the Nerubian Empire collapsed. It's a shame really. They had a real shot at ending the Undead Scourge before it took off.
    • The corruption of Netharion has a similar reason. As the Earth-Warder, his workplace was very literally the depths of the Earth. It is commonly believed that over the course of his work, he came across the prison of an Old God and was put under the collective influence of three Old Gods (the aforementioned Yogg-Saron was one of them). The rest is history.
    • A partial example is the failed World Tree Vordrassil. The roots plunged deep into the soil and reached Yogg-Saron's prison; his corruption flowed upward through the tree and remains present even after its destruction.
    • Gnomeregan is the best example. The gnomes were tunneling out more earth for their city, minding their own business, and bam! Troggs everywhere!
    • There's an excavation site in the Southern Barrens with a dwarf standing in front of a collapsed tunnel. If you talk to her, she tells you that they dug too deep and found... something. And then she lets you know that you better start praying to whatever you believe in that the cave-in was enough to keep it down there.
    • In the Blasted Lands, one of the most demon-populated areas in Azeroth, Alliance miners dug too deep and found... A demon! They got absolutely terrified. The Horde questgiver who tasks people to kill the demon, finds it rather hilarious.
  • Baldurs Gate II. The player is asked by a svirfneblin (deep gnome) to use a scroll to seal a shaft the little munchkins dug and released something that slept far under the earth. It then turns out the protagonist has to defeat the creature in question before the shaft can be sealed, which turns out to be a demon. A balrog balor, no less.
  • In Final Fantasy IX the Esto Gaza city is wiped out in this way, though the fact that they were digging into the side of a volcano should have set off some warnings.
  • In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, this is what happened to the town of Folsense, when gold miners discovered a metal that released a toxic, hallucinogenic gas.
  • Played with in Dragon Age where, during the course of the Dalish elf origin, you can find "a strange statue commemorating the emergence of -- and short-lived trading partnership with -- dwarves who dug too high and too frugal and struck elves."
    • Also played with with the Deep Roads, the Moria of the setting, where the problem wasn't that the dwarves dug too deep, but that the subterranean tunnels were taken over by the darkspawn, who were themselves digging for their old dragon-gods.
  • In Fallout 2, the miners of Redding presumably dug too deep in the Wanamingo mine, and unearthed massive amounts of the immensely strong Aliens. The player character can buy this mine, clear the mutant creatures out, and sell it for a large profit. This area of the game (along with the rest of the town) is known to be very hard despite being available early in the game.
    • The miners of Redding seem to be particularly unlucky when it comes to digging, as when they are hired by the Enclave to dig up the remains of the Mariposa military base, they are greeted with massive amounts of mutagenic vapors which slowly turn them into brutish super mutants. They kill their Enclave masters and take over the base. Two notable super mutants are created in this mess, Melchior the magician and Frank Horrigan. The Player knows about this because by the time s/he arrives, all the Enclave are either gone or dead, and they left behind graphic holodiscs on their corpses.
  • Presumably the fate of the Dwarves in Arx Fatalis. When you visit their mines in the lowest levels it's discovered that their entire population was destroyed by the Black Beast, an indestructible monster. Seeing as they didn't leave any writings and the Beast ate any survivors, it's hard to say for certain that they unearthed it, but this seems likely.
  • In Mass Effect, a survey team digging on a world that was being terraformed found a cache of Dragon's Teeth, which turned them into Husks. The exact same thing happens in Mass Effect 2.
  • This is part of the backstory of racing game POD. It results in a fungal virus that is destroying the planet Io, there is only one ship left and only one way to decide who gets to leave.
  • For quite a while, mining in Minecraft has risked tunneling into dungeons containing numerous monsters and a monster spawner. The Adventure Update added Abandoned Mineshafts infested with deadly cave spiders and sometimes possessing cave spider spawners, and, in the best fit for this trope, Strongholds: Sprawling maze-like underground complexes that are planned to have boss monsters added in a later update. What they already have is portals to The End, a bizarre reality from which the Endermen originate and ruled over by the Enderdragon.
    • Dig even deeper and you may risk falling into a bottomless abyss.
  • Dig far enough in Terraria and you'll enter the underworld, a place filled with large lava lakes and stuffed with some of the toughest mobs in game. Without special equipment even the rock you came for hurts you.
  • In the Flash game Motherload when you dig too deep, you encounter your boss, Mr. Natas.
  • The game Delve Deeper is all about digging too deep. The best relics and treasure (including mithril) are in the "deep" parts of each map, but so are some of the toughest monsters. If you do happen to dig too deep too quickly then you will quickly be swarmed with goblins and slimes and whatever else.
  • Phantasy Star Online: Both the Caves and the Mines qualify for this. Really, everything after the forest is digging deeper. You dig so deep that you find the spaceship of the final boss. Each dungeon is deeper and more monstrous that the previous.
  • Though Samus intervenes (read: blasts their plans to hell) before it can happen, one could interpret this as the direction the Space Pirates were headed in in Metroid Prime with the Phazon Mines.
  • Dawn of War: An excavation team accidentally uncovered a marker on Tartarus which, through a series of events, eventually led to the release of a daemon. Another one opened up the necron catacombs on Kronus. You'd think they'd learn to keep their spades out of the earth.
  • Fate of the World: The destabilization of methane clathrates, caused by countries drilling too deep to get natural gas, can be a game-ending event. Even a player who does not believe in banning the use of certain resources in Real Life may consider banning clathrates in this game.
  • The Desert Gold Mine under the Dusty Dunes Desert in EarthBound has the Guardian Diggers, five giant moles, as well as lots of poisonous snakes and spiders.
  • The Lord of the Rings Online has a Session Play in the Mines of Moria where you're part of the party of dwarves that actually uncover the Balrog. Your job is to survive until you can escape.
  • Only really showing up in Fridge Horror in Tales of the Abyss. Until much later in the game, the world is essentially a floating shell above a layer of poison miasma and bottomless mud. If you dig too deep in this world? You'll go right into the layer of bottomless mud. Fridge Horror when you consider this might have happened in Akzeriuth.
  • In at least two instances in the Tomb Raider series, a Sealed Evil in a Can ends up being unleasshed this way, such as the demon Seth in The Last Revelation, and the Unknown Entity From Nowhere in Legend.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a quest where miners have dug into an ancient burial ground filled with draugr. Guess who gets to clean them out? You.

Web Comics

  • The origin of Deep Crows in Penny Arcade
  • In Digger this is how the story started, and arguably its entire premise. It is however of course deconstructed as unlike the dwarfs of Moria, wombats are Genre Savvy enough to know there are some things in the deeps you leave the hell alone!
  • In The Noob, the dwarves "dug too deep", and unleashed... level 200 mining bots. So they turned to the tourism industry instead.
  • Parodied in this Xkcd strip.

Web Original

  • Ruby Quest: The Metal Glen started out as a fairly nice medical facility built on the seafloor. Then one of the administrators heard something whispering to him in the night, urging him to dig the foundations just a litte bit deeper...
  • The story detailed on Ted's Caving Page. A pair of cavers endeavor to widen a softball-sized hole in the wall of a local cave so that the passage beyond can be accessed. This does not end well.
  • Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do In An RPG tells us that contrary to what The Lord of the Rings and Dwarf Fortress suggest,

2376. The Dwarven work ethic is not just "Dig until we hit evil."

Western Animation

Real Life