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Plot Coupon
A somewhat more literal case than most.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE: Michael, I found out that Ralph Fiennes split his soul into 7 pieces and scattered them around the world. And yes, this really is what I learned, not the set-up to an RPG on Super Nintendo.

A thing that a character needs to obtain in order to cash it in later for a Plot resolution.

For example, let's say that our intrepid hero must steal a key, then find the Treasure Chest of Galumphry that the key will open, then remove the Orb of Power from the chest and use it to banish the Big Bad. The key, the chest, and the Orb are all plot coupons. Extremely common in video games, where collecting these coupons is known as a Fetch Quest, it is often presented as collecting several pieces of a lost artifact or gaining recognition from several factions.

A plot coupon might just as easily be one item in a series of MacGuffins, where the things themselves are not important, it is the seeking of them that moves the story along (indeed, the two terms often get used interchangably). See also Sword of Plot Advancement.

If the items in and of themselves are useless and only become valuable in hindsight, see It May Help You on Your Quest.

If the goal of the mission is to obtain an item that turns out to be less valuable than the finding of it, It's the Journey That Counts.

Coined by Nick Lowe in a science fiction convention talk, later printed as an article The Well-Tempered Plot Device in the fanzine Ansible and popularized by the Turkey City Lexicon.

Subtropes and Related Tropes:


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • Shards of the Shikon Jewel in InuYasha.
  • The rings with the Cagliostro crest in The Castle of Cagliostro.
  • The Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball. In its sequels, the plot is resolved more by fighting, and they become used to enforce status quo.
  • Fushigi Yuugi has the two Shinzahou.
  • Every Story Arc of Sailor Moon had one or more of these. Most notable are the Seven Rainbow Crystals...especially since they weren't in the original manga and were created by the anime specifically to extend the storyline. In the manga they're just looking for one big crystal; in the anime it breaks into seven color-coded pieces so the senshi have to spend that much longer trying to find them.
  • The Jewel Seeds in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and season 3 has the very-similar Relics.
  • The five Weapons of Light in the third season of Slayers; most of the time, the one we see is the Sword of Light wielded by Gourry. And it isn't just for the third season either, the Sword of Light is the key to a lot of storyline events.
  • The Cyber Planet Keys and Omega Lock in Transformers Cybertron.
  • The Clow Cards in Cardcaptor Sakura.
  • The Crests in Digimon Adventure.
  • Shikizaki Kiki's twelve Perfected Deviant Blades in Katanagatari.
  • The Philosopher's Stone from Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • The feathers in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle.
  • .hack//ROOTS intially has a set of items that the Twilight Brigade were collecting because they think it will lead to the Key of Twilight. Ovan claims that the items are leftover data from the previous iteration of The World and have no ingame purpose anymore. They turn out to be the breadcrumb trail for a trap laid by Yata but there's also no reason to assume Ovan's explanation is wrong since he had to fool Yata about not recognizing the trap but being interested in the items.

    Fairy Tales 

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider had the pieces of the Eye of the Illuminati.
  • Men In Black had the Galaxy "on Orion's Belt" or rather, on the cat Orion's collar.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean had this in each movie. The cursed coins of Cortez needed to lift the curse in the first, the key to open Davy Jones chest in the second, and the Pieces of Eight in the third.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail, and the Crystal Skull in Indiana Jones
    • Also the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, Grail Diary and Grail Markers.
  • Subverted in The Matrix: Revolutions when Trinity provokes a Mexican standoff rather than fetch "the eyes of the oracle" in order to save Neo from the Merovingian
  • The Death Star plans in Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke's original quest was to get them into the hands of the rebels.
  • The Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie features the titular character, Percy Jackson, and his friends Grover and Annabeth following a magical map given to them by a guy who's clearly very trustworthy to find three magical pearls that will let them escape from the underworld. In the books the three pearls are given to Percy by some water Nymphs, via his father. In contrast to the book, the movie seems to miss the lesson the books set up by having Percy leave Grover, his best friend in the underworld, abandoning him. Then again, I'm pretty sure no one making the movie had actually READ the book, so that's not much of a surprise.
  • The tape in Enemy of the State.
  • The floppy disk in The Net.
  • Sucker Punch- to escape the insane asylum/brothel, Baby Doll and the other girls must collect a map, fire, a knife, a key and a distraction.
  • The hero's medal in Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph needs it to win a modicum of respect among the Nicelanders, and the first major plot point is his adventure through Hero's Duty to retrieve it (within Hero's Duty, it's a MacGuffin). Unfortunately, it gets stolen by someone who cashes it in for almost exactly the same reason. Then the main plot starts.

    Literature 

  • The Eye of Rom, the single ruby earring used in Haldane empowering rituals, becomes one of these in Deryni Rising. During their preparations for Kelson's ritual, Morgan and Duncan learn from Kelson that it was buried with his father. The trio have to pay a visit to the royal crypt to retrieve it before they can begin the ritual sequence. Of course, it isn't as simple as that...
  • Helen Hawthorn, the narrator of Ni Claydon's Hand of Mercy, is increasingly annoyed when she realises that the scattered bones of Clem's severed hand are effectively Plot Coupons.
  • Each volume of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising requires tracking down one or more Plot Coupons, all of which are named in a poem presented in the second volume.
    • Over Sea, Under Stone is the hunt for the grail (not the Holy Grail, though).
    • Volume 2, The Dark is Rising, involved a hunt for six similar, elementally-themed discs known as The Signs of the Light.
    • In Greenwitch, the protagonists had to retrieve a cipher key for the inscription on the grail.
    • The Grey King involved winning the golden harp (clues having been provided by the grail), then using it to wake the Sleepers.
    • Silver On The Tree had a mini-Plot Coupon sequence to retrieve the actual Plot Coupon (the crystal sword), the user of which had to be protected by the Signs.
  • Lampshaded in Death by Cliche by Robert J Defendi; only, it's the bad guy who's been collecting them.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's The Grail and the Ring, the titular grail. (It is not the Holy Grail, but a grail carved out of a single large sidhe-stone, a substance that grants it magical powers.) Subverted in that Prince Tryffin, when tracing the object's history in the Inner Celydonn, actually collects a "shadow" of the grail, not the original. It's strongly implied that Dame Ceinwen disposed of the original in the Marches-Between-Here-and-There to keep it from making any more trouble, then couldn't find it again when it might have been useful.
  • In The Ancestral Trail, the pods and, later, omni pieces.
  • In Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, Doctor Impossible must collect three of these to construct his latest Doomsday Device.
  • Justified in Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart — the story is structured as an elaborate, carefully-scripted quest, and it turns out that there's a reason why it's structured that way.
  • Lampshaded and double-subverted in Un Lun Dun by China Miéville. The book of prophecy claims that, in order to defeat the Big Bad, they must collect a chain of these. The initial subversion comes when the protagonist decides this will take too long, and skips to the last link in the chain. The double-subversion comes when she realizes that she actually needed the Plot Coupons after all. Fortunately, she is able to Take a Third Option to get around this.
  • In Keys to the Kingdom, there are parallel sets of Plot Coupons such that one of each set must be retrieved in each book: the Key held by that day's Trustee, and the portion of the Will of the Architect being held prisoner by said Trustee.
  • Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series and its magic gems (plus other random broken pieces of something in the sequels.)
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry has to track down two sets of Plot Coupons before he can finish off Voldemort. The first set is Horcruxes, of which five remain after two were destroyed, respectively, during Chamber of Secrets and right before the events of Half-Blood Prince. The second set is the titular Deathly Hallows, of which there are three, and it's an optional quest until Voldemort starts looking for one of them.
  • Lampshaded in Charles Stross' Saturn's Children via a particularly egregious pun:
    "Don't get cute." He grinds the gun barrel against the back of my neck. "The encapsulated bird your conspirators sent you to fetch. The sterilized male chicken with the Creator DNA sequences. The plot capon. Where is it?"
  • EVERY book in the Rainbow Magic series has one of these. No exceptions.
  • Inverted in Roger Zelazny's Forever After, in which the group of heroes who originally gathered the five sacred weapons/armor pieces, must return them to hiding, to keep the world from tearing itself apart from the strength of the combined energy.
    • Zelazny's Changeling had the hero going on a quest to find the three pieces of his father's magical staff, the only tool powerful enough to defeat the villain.
  • Coraline had to recover the souls of three dead children as part of the game to escape the Other World.
  • The Adversary Cycle. In Nightworld the protagonists have to assemble a sword of the kind used to defeat Ransolm in The Keep, using the broken parts of prior magic artifacts. This is made more difficult than usual given that The End of the World as We Know It is happening and giant flesh-eating monsters are roaming the earth gobbling up anything that moves, including aircraft.
  • The Land of Stories: The items needed for the Wishing Spell.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, whatever items Jack Frost stole are these.

     Live Action TV  
  • Mocked in the Angel episode "Reprise," wherein Angel is told that to get to the Big Bad, he needs a ring; to get the ring, he needs to kill a certain demon; to kill the demon, he needs a magic glove. Angel cuts off his informer with, "Okay, now you're making this up."
  • The long-running T-Bag series, whose 9 series and 4 specials consisted of nothing except chasing plot coupons (first letters, then numbers, then whatever arbitrary things the writers came up with). And hanging lampshades on them.
  • Subverted in the Doctor Who episode Last of the Time Lords: The Doctor's companion Martha spends an off-screen year assembling a super-gun and set of super-bullets that can kill a Time Lord permanently. As soon as she's done it, the Master captures her and destroys it; Martha later laughs at him for believing in such an obvious plot device and reveals that her search was just a cover for her real mission.
  • The Objects in Sci-Fi's miniseries The Lost Room.
  • Just about every Rambaldi artifact from Alias (very evident in season one).
  • Supernatural : The four rings from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse form a key that will allow Sam and Dean to re-imprison Lucifer.
  • Prison Break uses this repeatedly, with varying effectiveness. Coupons range from a specific bolt to all sorts of evidence about the Company to the five million dollars that DB Cooper stole and buried in Utah.
  • The protagonists in The Legend Of Dick And Dom need to make a magic potion, and hunt down an ingredient Once an Episode. The ingredients vary in difficulty (The Eye of the Beholder, which requires a Journey to the Center of the Earth! ... A Pint of Milk!) which allows more time to be spent on adventuring or comedy, as required.
  • In one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Jake and Nog end up trading one plot coupon for another in a seemingly endless chain. 5000 wrappages of yamok sauce, for 100 gross of self-sealing stem bolts, for seven tessipates of land...

    Pinball 

     Video Games 
  • Just about every adventure game ever made: Space Quest, The Dig, Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Monkey Island. The second episode of Tales of Monkey Island by Telltale Games did some Lampshade Hanging with this, when a local bait shop will ONLY accept literal coupons to purchase bait. One of these three coupons leads to a (literal) Red Herring, but the other two are quite essential to progress in the plot.
  • In Albion, a long quest revolves around finding (of all things) a virility amulet for a tribal king (and saving the guy who made it, who got lost in a big dungeon). Then there's the Metal-Magic Scroll and the High Knowledge which are required for a spell that is pretty much the only thing that can defeat the Big Bad.
  • The Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie, which are used to complete the jigsaw puzzles in Gruntilda's Lair to open new worlds. Used again in Banjo-Tooie as proof that you are worthy to complete the challenges of Jiggywiggy, who seems to be the master of all things Jiggy, whose completion opens new worlds. They return in Nuts and Bolts, and are gained during the challenges settled by the Lord of Games.
  • The parts of Dracula's body in Castlevania II Simons Quest, again in the inverted castle portion of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and a third time in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance.
  • Almost every Sonic game has used the Chaos Emeralds (or "Time Stones" in Sonic the Hedgehog CD) as plot coupons. In the earlier games, they were not necessary to complete the game, they just made it easier and gave you the good ending. However, since Sonic Adventure, they have, in nearly every game, been necessary elements of the plot, often being the goals for completing the level.
  • Used in most Commander Keen games (ship parts in Invasion of the Vorticons, guardians in Goodbye Galaxy!, bombs in Keen Dreams).
  • Used repeatedly in Diablo II:
    • In Act II, you must collect the Viper Amulet, the Staff of Kings, and the Horadric Cube to assemble the Horadric Staff, which acts as a key to open the tomb of Tal Rasha.
    • In Act III, you must collect Khalim's Relics; combined, they act as a key to open the Durance of Hate.
  • In Dragon Warrior/Quest IV and sequels, the player must collect the 4 legendary armaments (sword, shield, helmet, and armor). Only the hero may wear them, and by the time the player acquires these, his hero likely already has better equipment.
  • In the flagrant Dolled-Up Installment Dragon's Lair: The Legend, Dirk quests to collect the Lifestones to awaken a sleeping giant knight. Specifically, 194 of them. It's as much fun as it sounds.
  • Elemental crystals in many Final Fantasy games.
  • The music notes of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody and the harvest sprites of Harvest Moon DS
  • HarmoKnight has you hunting for Royal Notes, 53 in all. These are only required to progress further twice throughout the entire game, the third time to unlock the level Birdwatching.
  • Kirby games generally have a set of special stars (or Crystal Shards in the game with that title) that you must collect to actually face the real Big Bad — who will only show himself you complete everything else. However these items are generally used to make the weapon he needs in the final fight.
  • The Legend of Zelda and its various sequels are the namesake for this trope. In later games, there are often two sets of coupons, the first usually being three items (pendants, pearls, etc.) needed to claim the Master Sword, rewarded halfway through. The second act then has a set of more items (medallions, pieces of a mirror, etc.). Another is simply eight items (essences, pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom) without any distinct midpoint
  • Every Mario RPG uses this.
    • Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars has you locating the seven pieces of the broken Star Road.
    • Paper Mario makes you rescue the seven Star Spirits.
    • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has you locating seven Crystal Stars. Peach is also a MAJOR plot coupon, but for a different reason. A bad one.
    • Super Paper Mario mixes it up a little, you need eight Pure Hearts (You start the game with one of them, though, so you still only actually need to find seven).
    • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has you collect the four pieces of the Bean Star after it shatters.
    • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time has you collecting the six pieces of the shattered Cobalt Star. Played for laughs in this one, as the number of shards you have goes up and down wildly throughout the game, until you get them all which is worse than useless; it actually frees the Final Boss).
    • Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story has the three Star Cures.
    • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has the five Ultibed parts and the Dream Stone. The villains steal the last one before you get there though.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • The 3-D Platforming Mario games also use this trope. Super Mario 64' and the two Super Mario Galaxy games all have you looking for 120 stars. In the case of Galaxy, you even have to get them all a second time to with Luigi to unlock the 121st star (for both characters) for the 100% completion, while in Galaxy 2 you also have to collect 120 green-colored stars to unlock the Grandmaster Galaxy, which has the last two stars, leaving you with a grand total of 242 stars for 100% completion.. Super Mario Sunshine replaces the stars with Shine Sprites, which retain the purpose of collection and are justified in-game for being the source of solar energy in Isle Delfino. In both Galaxy'' games, stars are justified as being fuel.
    • The coins in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. These are special coins from boss battles, not the normal kind found in ?-Boxes.
    • Taken to the extreme in New Super Mario Bros 2: The game wants you to collect 1,000,000 coins (regular coins) for no apperent reason. If this is achieved, it then challenges you to find 99,999,999 coins (enough to fill the coin meter with all 9's, basically). You are then rewarded with a new title screen.
  • Each of the Metroid Prime games has a set of items that must be collected in order to access the final level. 12 Chozo Artifacts in the first game, 9 Sky Temple Keys in the second, and at least 5 out of 9 Energy Cells in the third. Fortunately, neither Metroid Prime or Metroid Prime 3 force you to get them in the main quest, and Prime 2, despite having a set of keys for The Dragon of each energy controller (which aren't Plot Coupons themselves), only told you to find them when you needed them, many times along with you doing something more important/interesting. The big exception here are the Octoliths in Prime: Hunters, of which there are eight, as you must find them all at very specific plot points, and in a specific order.
  • Each game in the MOTHER series features Plot Coupons. However, only the first game actually had you collect anything, and that's in the loosest sense of the word.
    • MOTHER1 features the Eight Melodies, or the 8 parts of a song that the mysterious Queen Mary of Magicant has forgotten. The Melodies aren't actually items. Instead, various NPCs or Items sing them to you, you even get one melody from a cactus. In order to proceed to the Big Bad, you have to sing all eight melodies to Queen Mary. It turns out that Mary is actually Maria, Ninten's great-grandmother, who was abducted by aliens. Gigyas was a baby she volunteered to raise, and the song you have spent the whole game learning is a lullaby she used to sing to him. Singing the lullaby to Gigyas is the only way to actually defeat him.
    • Mother 2/EarthBound features Your Sanctuaries, eight locations where Earth's Power was the strongest. Each also had a melody associated with it, and when Ness uses the Sound Stone to play them all back, he goes to his own version of Magicant. Unlike the first game however, the eight melodies, nor the power of Magicant are used against Gigyas. Paula has to pray nine times instead.
    • Mother 3 features Seven Needles scattered across the Nowhere Islands, which require the use of PK Love to be pulled out. Pulling out all seven awakens a sleeping dragon that the islands rest upon, who will only listen to the person who pulls out the seventh and final needle. The Big Bad eventually reveals a mysterious masked general who can use PK Love as well, and uses him to try and pull out the seventh and final needle. The Final Battle takes place at the site of the final needle.
  • Dark Souls has the Bells of Awakening, that must be rung to reveal the purpose of the Undead. And then, after that, you retrieve the Lordvessel and then kill some gods for their Lord Souls.
  • Most Bioware games are, to a large extent, about retrieving plot coupons rather than the plot itself:
    • In Knights of the Old Republic, the player has to find all Star Maps to get behind the villain's military strength; to retrieve these Maps, he always has to do something that involves finding out about the game's background and/or solving problems unrelated to the actual plot, like a Wookiee civil war or a conflict with Tusken raiders. The main plot will only go on after finding one of these coupons.
    • Dragon Age: Origins has the player finding a few rather large coupons in the form of allied armies - to get these, he, just like in KOTOR, has to solve several local problems unrelated to the main plot.
    • In Mass Effect 2, most of the game revolves around finding living breathing coupons aka squad members - the actual plot is few and far between and only moves on after gathering a certain amount of members.
  • Donkey Kong 64 has Golden Bananas, with 25 available per level: Four bananas per each of the five Kongs, plus one per Kong from "Blueprints", which themselves could be considered Plot Subcoupons due to being traded for Golden Bananas sometime after collection.
    • This game also has Banana Coins, with each Kong having their own color of coin. In order to progress, a certain number of these must be collected and traded for "moves" (such as the ability to press stronger switches). Not enough coins means no move (and thus no progression) for you! note 
    • There are also "DK Coins", which feature heavily in minigames and races. While not traded directly, the races / minecart sections require a certain number of these to be in your possession by the end of the section, so even if you "win" the race, if you don't have enough coins, you lose.
  • Sky Odyssey has the four pieces of the Lost Map, hidden in ruins scattered throughout the Islands of the Dark Sea. The player needs to find these map pieces in order to discover the only way into the Tower of Maximus, the games final level.
  • Robopon has the X-Stones of the second game. Each one is required to challenge a ranked competitor, and people will go to obscene lengths to hide them and keep their rankings.

The Hollywood FormulaNarrative TropesPlot Device
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Pirate BootyMac GuffinThe President's Daughter
Player InventoryVideo Game Items and InventoryPlot Coupon That Does Something
Playing SickNarrative DevicesPlot Detour
Pimped-Out DressMagical Girl TropesPower Crystal
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate FactoryImageSource/Live-Action FilmsThe Witches of Eastwick

alternative title(s): Plot Coupons; Plot Token
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