7 Ways on How to Run a Treasure Hunt

RPG treasure hunt
Treasure hunts are the crown of RPG

By Jesse C. Cohoon

There is the type of game where you go to dangerous site, talk to the appropriate people, wander around, fight the monsters and come home with the treasure that’s just laying there. However, such games can be so much more than that. What I’m talking about is making the game more exciting, more thrilling. A treasure hunt can be an investigation – a hunt for information – for actual treasure or something intangible.

What key points should a good treasure hunt have?

1. A good treasure hunt should have multiple parties wanting what you’re after

These parties could be different political or religious points of view, different people wanting whatever the treasure is for whatever reason, or people who do not want the information to come out.

Each party should have their own viewpoints and reasons for wanting to find the treasure or keep it hidden.

For example, what would happen if, as in Dan Brown’s Novel The Da Vinci Code, it was proven there actually was a divine blood line of Jesus? What if aliens visited the earth and the gods are aliens that gave us technology and knowledge? What if the various conspiracy theories found in the Zeitgeist movie are true?

2. A good treasure hunt should be geographically diverse

Look at the National Treasure movies, and Dan Brown’s multiple works, and look at the History Channel Cities of the Underworld. Each offers different geographical ideas and how to connect diverse things hat might not at first glance have any apparent connection.

You can hide treasure hints in statues, remote geographic locations, cities, books or even art for those who know what to look for and how to find it.

Such places might be guarded by physical, magical, technological or psychic means.

It is then up to the players to find a way around the obstacles faced to get what they need to get.

3. The treasure should not be easy to find, understand or decipher

Clues should be available, but not readily known or noticed. If they’re widely known and others have all the pieces, why hasn’t the treasure (whatever it may be) have been retrieved by now?

It should take special knowledge or skills to decipher clues because they are so scattered. Players may go to a specialist or sage, only to be told incomplete or wrong information, or that someone else may have the knowledge they need.

Going to specialists might alert those that who also seek the treasure of its whereabouts and increase the danger. Furthermore, the specialists themselves or their families might be in danger.

4. A good treasure hunt should have wide-reaching consequences

Can you imagine how history would be different if Nixon was able to silence or prevent the Watergate scandal? Could you imagine the ripples of consequences if aliens were proven to have interfered with human history? What happens if the evil overlord gets the crown of divinity? What happens if the scepter of undead control ends up wrong hands?

5. A good treasure hunt should be dangerous, but there always should be a way out if the participants think about it long and hard enough

This danger can be:

Social – failure to find treasure makes you to look like a fool, or defame you or your family’s name

Emotional – failure makes you feel very bad, lowers your confidence or even causes psychosis

Physical – guards and traps.

There should be time to think and adjust to get everyone out alive if a plan is enacted fast. The forces that wish to get it before you, or wish to prevent its discovery, can also be dangerous. They might do anything to prevent the PCs from completing their quest.

6. A good treasure hunt should be rewarding

Even if the treasure isn’t quite what you expected, it should be valuable and worth the adventure, if not materially, then in terms of character growth and development.

7. A good treasure hunt should be fun

Anything you should do for a game should increase the player’s enjoyment.