Treasure hunts are quests that seek the acquisition or discovery of a lost treasure, relic, mythical location, or other important item (powerful magic items are prominent in fantasy worlds). These pursuits often involve treasure maps or a series of challenges that must be solved in order to obtain the desired object. The journey may be difficult and may lead to treasure islands or other strange and dangerous locations. Treasure hunts are used in all types of worlds and narratives and can be a fun way to explore both physical locations in a world as well as its’ history.
While the adventure and journey of a treasure hunt requires the most design, the treasure is obviously the central focus. Consider what object or location is being quested after. Also consider the motivations of those pursuing this quest. They may be after wealth, fame, or power (particularly if the treasure is a weapon, key to something else, or other fantastic element).
Histories & Legends
Often there are legends or histories surrounding a treasure – how it came to be and how it was lost. Often in narratives this legend is recounted by an old sailor or historian. There may be some that know details of the history they do not share with others.
Other Interested Parties
The protagonist party may not be the only ones searching for the treasure. There may be others also seeking these riches and it may be a race to see who finds it first. There also may be groups wishing to protect the treasure or keep it hidden. Previous expeditions may have already attempted to locate the item or place and may have met with unfortunate results. Consider if others are also involved in the treasure hunt.
A treasure hunt may include a treasure map or it may involve a series of challenges (riddles, puzzles, etc.) which need to be solved sequentially in order to find the next clue location. If including a treasure map, there are a number of map-related elements to consider.
Finding the Map
Treasure maps usually are not common items, so finding or obtaining one should feel like a special or unusual event. Consider how a map such as this was acquired or discovered. It may have been purchased from a mysterious vendor, found within a shipwreck, discovered in the belongings of a skeleton or drowned sailor, unearthed from an old chest hidden away somewhere, existed as a message in a bottle, or given as a gift from an old sea dog at a seaside tavern.
Treasure maps may come with additional items (spyglasses, strange coins, compasses, unusual knives) that may aid in either the decoding of the map, finding hidden routes or locations along the journey, or act as keys for hidden doors. Consider if you wish to include such additional objects.
If your treasure hunt has other interested parties, the map and other objects may be split between the two.
Decoding the Map
Treasure maps may be written in riddles. There may be puzzles that need to be solved. Portions of it may be written in ink that only appears under certain conditions. These clues may provide information about the journey as well as the dangers, beasts, and traps that may be faced.
The journey is the critical component of treasure hunts and may lead through seas, deserts, across archipelagos or if your world is a science fiction one, may span planets. Consider the unique locations that must be visited enroute to your treasure and the clues and dangers each location provides.
Lost & Hidden Lands
Treasure hunts often lead to lost or hidden lands. These may be treasure islands, ancient temples, ruins from long ago, or other places. It is likely no outsider has stepped foot here for some time (though there may be hidden civilizations present). There may be traps and terrain hazards within these locations.