Treasures which, once acquired, drive the plot in an interesting direction. Let’s look at two examples.
This piece of metal looks like a Roman solidus (gold coin), but no one can identify the emperor it depicts. Whenever someone picks it up, if it’s the first time since sunrise she’s picked up a coin like this one, she is compelled to think, in the same voice she uses for the rest of her internal monologue, the phrase “The Devil’s blessings come with this coin.”
- Who is the emperor depicted? Tracking him down can lead the PCs in whatever direction you were trying to get the plot to go.
- The people who made this coin track its movement. If the PCs hang on to it too long, they’ll find themselves visited by self-proclaimed devil worshippers who believe they have found people open to their beliefs.
- Should the PCs try to spend this coin, they'll need to find a way to get the merchant to take it without touching it. Otherwise, he may refuse it as cursed. Should he touch the coin later, he may trace it back to the PCs and cause trouble for them.
- If the PCs allow the coin to enter circulation, it will certainly end up in the wrong hands. It’s particularly attractive to madmen. Even if the PCs deal with the devil worshippers, coins like this one will eventually draw their keepers to form a new coven.
The Aldebaran Hologram
This hologram is a lost work by renowned holo-artist Vozek N’tru. It shows the final days of the cruel king of planet Parallax, exiled to Elba Secundus by his children. The king’s head is bowed in contrition, his face a mask of regret. Around him is piled the great wealth his children permitted him to bring to Elba. His back is to it; he finally recognizes its meaninglessness. The stars spin slowly overhead.
- Everyone knows Elba Secundus' location was forgotten along with the name of its only inhabitant. Everyone also knows that Vozek N’tru believed he had found it just before he vanished. If the artist was right, the location of the king’s lost treasure could be reverse-engineered from the star field in the hologram.
- The hologram itself is absurdly valuable. The well-connected might offer the party substantial political favors to see it donated to a museum. These favors will bring with them new political enemies, triggering more adventures.
- In the hologram, the king of Parallax is carrying his legendary weapon, the World-Ender. An odd alliance of engineers, pacifists, and political activists might try to destroy the hologram to prevent the rediscovery of the World-Ender. They’re willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.
One perk of having the treasure be a plot hook is that you don’t have to plan it in advance. They’re easy to shove in at the end of the adventure. “Oh, the dragon must not have even realized what this item was! Otherwise, he’d never have kept it mixed in with the rest of his hoard.”
Note that for a treasure to work as a plot hook while still being useful as treasure, it must be possible to separate the plot hook from the treasure. For example, while the PCs may choose to hang onto the Infernal Solidus (above) for safe keeping, they can absolutely choose to spend it and still enjoy adventures from it down the line. Maybe the merchant suspects the PCs of witchcraft and riles up the town against them. Or maybe the local coven gets a flood of new members and starts making life difficult for the PCs.