In my pirate campaign, one of my players has a part of a treasure map and the other parts will be discovered; together they will contain a riddle. I'm not good at drawing things and have never made maps before.

  1. How would you create it so that every part of the map has something interesting on it or maybe a hint where to find the next part?
  2. Are there good sites where to find riddles for a buried treasure?
  3. How would you make the map look like a treasure map?

Other basic advice for a beginning mapmaker would be appreciated, as I'm not sure exactly what I should even be asking.

I want to hand out a physical map.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you mind being more specific what you need? Broad queries as this don't have any "correct" answers, as per our site format. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I've voted to close the question until there is a more detailed outline of what it is you are after. Have you tried creating maps before? If so, what did you have trouble with? Where specifically do you think you need help etc etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agree. To me, it sounds like you're looking for tips for the content of the maps (because of the emphasis on riddles); but since we already have an answer that mentions tips on creating props it's best to narrow it down. For all we know, you're looking for tips on the "icons" you should use on your maps. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Commented Jun 29, 2013 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not an answer in itself, but Fantastic Maps is a blog with excellent tips and tutorials on the making of maps. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Jun 30, 2013 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another point to clarify: is this meant to be a physical paper map that players can hold (handout) or something digital for online play? \$\endgroup\$
    – leokhorn
    Commented Jun 30, 2013 at 12:32

3 Answers 3


First and most important point: The actual map is actually the least important and interesting part of a treasure map. Remember, the purpose of a treasure map is almost never to make it easy to find a treasure - It's to make it easy for the mapmaker to find the treasure - or possibly one of his relatives, if he doesn't manage it himself. As a result, most treasure maps are deliberately made obscure, misleading, and cryptic. So, to turn that around, the important parts of a treasure map are the clues that let you find the treasure, and the obstacles that make those clues hard to understand; These are what makes a treasure map interesting.

Before that, though, a map should include some trick that ensures that only certain people can even start to understand the map. In the game fiction, this is a way for the mapmaker to ensure that no-one but him (and maybe his descendants and friends) can find his treasure easily; From a narrative perspective, it can provide a dramatic way of introducing the map as a recurring theme in the story; And to a GM, it offers an excellent 'early puzzle encounter' and a chance to introduce backstory related to the map. Typical 'map keys' include: a pendant with a particular design that needs to be placed over the compass rosette, the figurehead of the mapmaker's lost ship, or the blood of one of the mapmaker's descendants. For bonus points, design your map in such a way that it doesn't even appear to be a treasure map until the key is applied. (Note that your player characters will probably learn the map-key without much difficulty, or the adventure won't go anywhere quickly; The really interesting question to ask is "who else worked it out at around the same time?" Treasure map adventures are often races.)

Solving that first puzzle doesn't mean your treasure-hunters are home free, however. The initial hurdle is just that: The first of several. Treasure maps rarely have an 'X' marking the spot - of if they do, 'the spot' will be a trap, trick or warning for would-be treasure hunters, instead of anything useful. (A hole in the ground to make it look like someone else already found the treasure is easy to set up).

Instead, the map should contain clues designed to let treasure hunters navigate by means of landmarks. Often these clues will be written as a series of cryptic riddles that can only be solved when at the location the previous riddle described; In other cases, the directions will be straightforward, but the landmarks themselves will contain riddles or clues that can only be understood in combination with information revealed by riddles on the map. In either case, it's shouldn't be possible to find the treasure with just the found clues or map alone.

So, getting back to your question about how to make each piece of a multi-part treasure map interesting, each piece of the map needs to be pursue-able on its own. Not all the way to the treasure, of course, but each piece should be able to get you a vital clue without needing the others. Fortunately, there's a lot of precedent for this, especially with maps divided into sections to prevent the treasure-hiders from betraying each other: Thus, the riddles and clues the players find need not lead from one to the next in a linear fashion; Paths can branch and merge, and in some cases, the answers to a series of puzzles and riddles might be combine to form an additional, final puzzle. Again, these puzzles will be designed to be solved by the mapmakers-and-their-descendants, and not outsiders; Having access to a journal or biography of the mapmaker can be a big help. For a GM, this is your big chance to establish the personality of the map-maker through the kind of obstacles and puzzles they design; Remember, not all charismatic NPCs need to appear 'On Stage.'

If you're looking for more specific ideas, I remember once following a treasure map where each clue indicated a location in sequence; Then, by 'joining the dots' on the map in the order the locations were visited, an 'X' was drawn. In another case, each section of the maps described a set of directions presented without context; Only when all the map was assembled could the correct order of turns be discerned.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Paths between encounters, puzzles and riddles, traps, monsters and curses... In a sense, designing the treasure map is designing the adventure. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 4:26

Cut off the edges of a sheet of printer paper. Soak the paper in tea to give it a darker color. Use a pen to draw the map. Write your riddle either on the back or under the the sketch. Make sure the riddle makes sense.

Ideas for the riddle:

  • Make it rhyme
  • Make it a math formula
  • Tie it to some type of landmark
  • Tie it to an NPC

Note, if you're using a riddle, then the map should be an optional side quest, not part of the main story, because it's possible they won't solve it and your game will come to a screeching halt.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The question's been updated, and if you can add something to your already-useful answer that addresses some of the other points in the question, that'd be excellent. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Jun 30, 2013 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Riddles as side quests is a must. I have seen a number of games come screeching to a halt do to the players misinterpretations of what it could mean. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vethor
    Commented Jun 30, 2013 at 23:28

I gained a considerable amount of inspiration from a site Lost Pirate Gold. http://www.lostpirategold.com/

I loved his idea of needing to use a log book filled with cryptic clues along with deciphering a map. - I translated that idea into a pirate hunt adventure for my young nephews. I don’t exactly know what you’re going for, but perhaps this can help you.

Typically Riddles are used to further the game along.. it would be helpful if you mentioned what are the objects or places you want them to find-

You shouldn't be overly vague - Below is an example I used regarding pieces of 8 i handed out with a map... I was lucky enough to find a jeweler to engrave on them a hidden clue...

This is no easy Journey, for the Treasure you seek
Pay close attention to the words that I speak
Cursed gold there be, that’s without a doubt
A perilous journey filled with pirate lore everyone dreams about

Only a cunning crew will be able to find this plunder
A handful of the lost cursed coins leave many with curious wonder
What do they mean? Is the coin a starting clue?
I’d spend the time to study them if I were you.

Here's an example if you needed to direct the players to a specific place

Your journey begins in a place of no pity
Across the stormy seas to the shores of Hempen Halter city
Seek out an old direction pole by the fountain in the square
Let it show you the way, be cautious – beware!

Perhaps you need them to find a lighthouse....

Upon the shore a light is seen a ship it seems to be,
It rocks just like a ship would rock that sailed upon the sea.
But on a lame horse on the coast that pilot well did know,
A light was placed for to deceive to wreck the “Fortune Foe”.

Another great poem I read in "Lost Treasure of the Pirates of the Caribbean - BY James A. Owen.

Though death may have claimed us, our treasure be hid,
The last of their duties our mapmakers' bid,
To secret away from the bright eyes a-prying,
From scoundrels a-seeking and fear'd foes trying
To claim as their own the treasure unshared,
With cannon a-blazing and scimitar bared.
Following footsteps from ages gone past,
A pirate at heart may find it at last.

Hope you found this inspirational.


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