This is an exercise to help me with my own planning and preparation of adventures for hidden and secret items/treasure/doors/etc. I wanted a quick page to have all the things I wanted to make sure I considered when planning hidden item(s).
See this article on locks. My article on trade goods has some insight on items that might be hidden. Last year’s entry on V – Vaults for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. See also E – Entrances & Exits and D – Dungeons.
Type of Hiding:
- In Plain Sight*
- Combination of the above.
*This can vary from the object is in plain sight, but could be obscured in a minor way, it is very plain looking, it is in a room with multiple similar or identical objects, illusion, magic, mirrors, etc.
**Containers may be hidden or in plain sight. Containers are anything that holds something. Sacks, bags, bottles, kegs, casks, barrels, scroll cases, cups, glasses, chests, luggage, rooms, planets, pocket dimensions, etc.
***Includes magic and illusions. Any way that a spell can be used to hide something. Darkness, polymorph, invisibility, duo-dimension, etc.
****Hidden can vary in how well something is hidden from not well to devilishly clever. This type of hiding is non-magical.
*****One or more normal or non-magical traps that are part of the hidden location of the item(s).
Effort Given to Hiding:
How much time and effort the possessor and/or owner of an object spends hiding it determines how easily is is found and retrieved.
- Quick/Rushed – For example, a pickpocket hiding his new loot.
- A few uninterrupted minutes. – This is slightly better hidden, but without a known location to deposit it or a magic item or spell to place on it, one will not hide it too well.
- An hour to think and plan it.
- Days or more to plan it.
- Special building project, craft project, etc. to hide/conceal it.
- Magic and/or illusion to hide it.
- Guardian(s) placed to defend and prevent finding the hidden location.
- Inaccessible location – top of mountain, bottom of sea, middle of desert, etc.
A good example is the myths about Oak Island indicate that it is a vastly complex route to a hidden treasure. If it really is a hidden treasure chamber with various obstacles along the way, it shows maximum effort. Tides, weather, geology, hydrology, atmosphere, traps, barriers, etc.
- None* – Solely reliant on how well it is hidden.
- Obstacle – In addition to traps or hiding, there might be a moat, cavern, etc.
- Lock/Seal/Glyph – From physical locks to magical or holy/unholy protections.
- Normal creatures – from unintelligent to highly intelligent
- Magical creatures – from charmed normal creatures to magical creatures or even extra planar creatures.
*There might be no guards for other reasons, such as the guardians are dead or defeated by those who have gone before, but the hidden location/item(s) was not found.
**Combination could indicate competing groups out for the honor of guarding the item the best. This could lead to one group sabotaging the other or making it appear the other is the one who let the item(s) get found and removed from hiding.
NOTE: Guardians that are intelligent can be highly organized, like a secret society dedicated to keeping something hidden, or a tribe whose goal is to keep something hidden.
Guardians will also vary in how efficient and effective they are. A single guardian that has to eat will have to be away seeking food, unless there is a ready food supply. If the guardian eats adventurers, there will have to be a steady stream of new ones to feed the guardian to keep it from hunting.
Guardians with a large area to patrol will only be as effective as the amount of area they can survey/patrol.
The loyalty and dedication of guardians will also be a factor. A bound magical creature might have learned loopholes that it might use to let the item be found to spite the one who bound them. If the binding has a bit that will harm the bound if the item is recovered, it would motivate the guard to do a good job.
Lack of food, pay, discipline, etc. will have an impact on how motivated and loyal guards are.
NOTE: It is possible for the guardian to be the hiding spot, i.e. a large creature, like a dragon or some such has swallowed the item(s) and you have to slay the creature to get it.
Tools for guardians:
Intelligent guardians will be given tools they can use. Unintelligent guardians will have the environment designed to maximize the effectiveness of the guardian. For example, a ten foot cubic passageway around a room that is a ten foot cube patrolled by a gelatinous cube fed by the refuse from the sewers of the city above. Rats and other denizens of the sewers would be between the hiding spot and the character’s starting point.
A great aid to helping guardians do their job is that they don’t know the secret(s) needed to retrieve the item(s) or even the exact location of the hiding place.
- Knowledge – lore, map or other secrets to help protect item(s)
- Items – Specialty items whether normal or non-magical specific to keeping it hidden.
- Magic – Spells, charms, or magic items designed to help with the mission of guarding the item(s).
For a science fiction or modern setting, replace scrying devices with closed circuit TV, add motion sensors, laser defenses, etc.
What is hidden?
- Good guys hide something from bad guys.
- Bad guys hide something from good guys.
- Gems & Jewels
- Money, Gems & Jewels.
- Magic & Money
- Magic & Money, Gems & Jewels
- Unique interesting item – could be magical.
*The reasons for this are manifold. The place of hiding was prepared, but the item was never put in place. The item was moved for cleaning and lost. The item was acquired by a prior person or group. More examples could be found.
To whom is the hidden valuable?
- The person who hid it. Others consider it junk, odd, etc.
- Specific species/race.
- Specific class.
- Specific alignment/affiliation/group with a common goal.
- Specific person/creature*
- Everyone who knows about it.**
*The big bad, the big good, some average Joe, like a farmer, player character, dragon, lich, diety, demon, devil, etc.
**Watch It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World to get an idea of how this might work.
Multi-part items with multiple hiding spots
Just like Harry Potter seeking the horcruxes of Voldemoort, each hidden in its own unique way, a multi-part item or treasure could contain clues or the requirements to find other location(s).
This gets complicated. Each individual location is subject to each of the above criteria, in addition to the specifics of the item.
Take a mythical 7 part item. In the initial hiding the only way to find the items is to find them in the correct sequence. If you find item 7 first you can’t find item one or six, since an item only tells you how to find the next item. In addition, over the ages, some items have been found or moved, or the custodian(s) of the items did not place the item in its hiding spot.
I need to start an adventure with finding the last item in a series and seeing if the party takes the bait to figure out how to find the rest of it. Lots of money spent with one or more sages, wizards, and clerics seeking clues.
Custodians – Similar to guardians, and may be a subset of elite/senior guardians who actually know the secret location and many of the secrets to get close to the item, and even interact with it. As a last resort, custodians can move that which is hidden.