One of the most time honored adventure hooks is the treasure map. Essentially they exist to get characters from point A to point B, maybe with a little adventure in the middle. Here are some alternatives to the basic treasure map that serve the same purpose.
- The Compass: An enchanted compass that always points to some location. Similar to a map, but with just direction to go on. Characters will have to keep their eyes peeled for dangers to avoid stumbling into them, since there are no “here there be dragons” on a compass. Clever players may triangulate and overlay the results on a local map to help solve this problem. More powerful compasses may rotate through several locations as you reach them, or may activate additional locations via command word.
- A Ruined Road: A bit of an ancient stone road mostly reclaimed by wilderness, the direction it once traveled is clear. Following it’s last known direction in either way probably results in finding more fragments until you arrive at the locations from which it started and at which it finished. Following the road may require a good deal of beating bushes and searching, and may go through some dangerous territory that the characters have little choice but to enter. Some of these roads may feature intersections that lead to even more destinations.
- A clear Vantage Point: The reward for finding the ancient tree in the center of the forest or a lost wizard’s tower may be little more than the view from the top. From this clear vantage point, a character with keen eyes may spot any number of interesting locations, and any number of locations that seem to be interesting but are little more than a ditch. Clever use of scrying may be useful in determining which is which before outfitting a cross country expedition.
- Unusual Treasure: Treasure, or even trash that has no business being where you find it is a dead giveaway that another location of interest is nearby. Furniture, tools, utensils, weapons, scrolls, clothes are all things that could be a clue to search the surrounding area. Of course, questioning the current owners of these things may get your characters a guide, or it may get them a fight first and an interrogation scene after.
- Will-O-The-Wisp: Everyone knows not to follow the will-o-the-wisps, La Lorna, the haunting laughter of children, or the skittering black shadows into the deep swamp or the darkened wood. Especially as night approaches. But are they leading you to an ambush or a long forgotten site? Careful characters may find it well worth their while to follow these dangerous beings.
What clever alternatives have you used to guide characters to a new location? Let everyone know in the comments below.
Here are two more options:
1. The NPC who knows the way – the NPC has been there before, but she can’t now, only the PCs can go there for her. She must describe what the PCs are looking for and warn them of dangers. But can she be trusted? NPCs for this could be sick, injured, in jail, or even just have other obligations like being a mayor. This NPC could either be the quest-giver or simply be someone who has information that others don’t have, and the PCs need to convince them to help.
2. The local legend – everybody’s heard of it. But does anybody know exactly where it is? The PCs will have to ask around, and decide which tales are true, which have truth to them, and which are far too crazy to be real. The old drunkard said he saw something while in the bog weeks ago … but was he just drunk? Is it worth hiking into a dangerous bog just to check?