That leads us to a hidden box
That's all locked up with locks
And buried deep away
We'll dig up the box
We know it's full of precious booty
Burst open the locks
And then we'll say 'Hurray'"!
Follow the map, dig up the treasure, get rich — A Simple Plan which seldom works.
First, the heroes have to find the map. If they're lucky, someone will conveniently drop dead at their feet with the map on them; if they're less lucky it will have been hidden in some old heirloom. If they're really unlucky, it'll have been cut up into pieces, each held by a different group of treasure hunters; the heroes will have to collect all the pieces before they can even start looking for the treasure.
Next, they'll need to find the starting point, the right tropical isle or hidden cave. Getting there may be an adventure in itself. Once there, the heroes have to find the actual location of the treasure. This can be as simple as "X marks the spot", or "fifteen paces south of the dead pine" (though might find that fifteen paces for one of their group doesn't cover the same distance for another) up to having to navigate a Bamboo Technology Death Course, with only cryptic comments scrawled on the map to help them find the safe route through. If Status Quo Is God either the treasure will turn out to be worthless or the heroes will have to abandon it for the greater good.
Expect at least one group of antagonists to be on the heroes' heels throughout all this.
The Adventurer Archaeologist will often come across treasure maps. This trope is also a form of A MacGuffin Full of Money. This trope is often associated with Pirate Booty, despite the fact that pirates rarely buried treasure - the typical pirate would spend most of his income from a voyage outfitting the ship for the next one, and squander the rest on high living before setting out on said voyage (Given that piracy is a rather high-risk career, there's a pretty good chance that a pirate who cached his loot with the intent to spend it some years later wouldn't be alive at the time he planned to dig it up. As the pirates were smart enough to know this, they spent most of their loot at the first opportunity they got).
A Treasure Map does not always have to be a literal map, as in topographical chart. Encrypted messages often form an essential part of a Treasure Map, and sometimes an encrypted message is the map.
See also Never Win the Lottery.
- One side-arc of One Piece featured a character who, while following a treasure map, got stuck in a box and was unable to claim the treasure (several chests at the top of a cliff). The trope was subverted when Luffy climbed the cliff for him and found the treasure chests were empty - someone else had taken the treasure long before the first guy got there.
- The Road Poneglyphs are four stone blocks that have locations written on them. When all four locations are plotted on a map, they'll form an X on the location of Raftel, the island where One Piece is held.
- In Slayers Next, Lina acquires a decidedly unhelpful treasure map that guides her to the location of a book of singularly useless ritual spells/festival dances.
- Subverted in Transformers Cybertron: The map to the planets where the Cyber Planet Keys lie turns out to have been rendered just about useless due to stellar drift, and the attempts to recalibrate it to compensate end in failure. The heroes and villains alike end up having to find more current co-ordinates via other leads.
- In Umi Monogatari, Marin and Kanon go in search of treasure, but end up finding angry pirates.
- Carl Barks' and Don Rosa's Uncle Scrooge stories often used this plot.
- Averted in the Tintin two part story, "Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Tintin: Red Rackhams Treasure" in the necessary information is not a map, but three papers that when held together reveal the coordinates of the sunken ship's location. Even then, Tintin had to reckon with Capt's Haddock using the Paris Meridian and not the Prime Meridian for his starting point and even then the whole message on the papers really meant that the treasure was actually hidden in Marlinspike Hall. At one point they misunderstand the map, thinking the treasure is buried on the Island, then after digging realize that Sir Francis wouldn't have left the treasure on the island and never come back for it.
- The "Kitchen Irish" arc of The Punisher MAX revolves around a modern version of this trope. An evil elderly irish gangster had willed three map coordinates that would lead to his hidden money somewhere in New York, and given each to a different gang leader, knowing that they all hated both him and eachother and would tear eachother apart trying to get the others coordinates after he died. On the off-chance that they ever decided to put the hostilities on hold and find the treasure together (which they do at the climax of the story), it turns out the treasure wasnt even real, it was just a bomb with the word CUNTS! carved into the C4 attached to it.
- The four take a complicated map off a mugger in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. They're told it leads to a mine. “Why would we want to go to a mine?” George sensibly asks. The woman they asked tells them the mine is probably infested with monsters or bandits and must hold something good, since it requires a rare jump gem to get there. The four decide the map must have been given them by the gods to point them to the amulet Ringo wants so badly. However, when they finally get the requisite jump gem and go to the valley where the mine is, they discover that another adventuring party has beaten them there and is just about to come out with the spoils. Hilarity Ensues.
- The Road to El Dorado uses this for the first half-hour or so, with the rest set in the 'treasure' of El Dorado. It's also a bit of a historical joke as fake maps to El Dorado were common during the era, but this one just happened to be real.
- Treasure Planet. - A holographic treasure map guides the way ... which is not surprising, since it is Treasure Island IN SPACE!
- In Titan A.E., a map to the eponymous Titan is hidden inside the ring the main character, Cale, has as a memento of his father. Like a treasure map, you have to decode and visit every stop along the way.
- City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold subverts this: the map led to fake treasure as part of an "adventure tour."
- However, it turned out at the very end that this was only a portion of the map, and that the complete version would lead to real treasure.
- Before anyone can venture into the Cutthroat Island, three pieces that construct its map must be found first.
- In The Goonies, Mikey leads the Goonies with the centuries-old map hoping it still leads to Pirate Booty. Of course, it does.
- Featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, complete with a Lampshade Hanging on the trope. The beginning of the movie has Indy telling his students that "[archelogists] don't follow maps to buried treasure, and X never, ever marks the spot." Of course, both statements turn out to be untrue.
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Grogan's Final Speech functions as a treasure map.
- The Pacifier also had a bit of this, with the route for how to get through the obstacle course coded into "The Peter Panda Dance", a child's bedtime rhyme.
- Three Kings was a strange example of this, with bored infantry finding the map in an enemy soldier's butt. It's better than it sounds.
- The Mummy Trilogy
- The Mummy features a map to Hamunaptra, although it's destroyed accidentally-on-purpose by the curator (secretly a Medjai) and Jonathan and Evy have to rely on Rick's knowledge of where Hamunaptra is.
- In The Mummy Returns, the map is in the form of a hologram projected by the Bracelet of Anubis, showing the way to Ahm Shere.
- Yellowbeard: The treasure map is tattooed on the head of Yellowbeard's son Dan.
- One of the infamous plot points of National Treasure was that there was a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. It turns out to be of the encrypted message-type rather than an actual map.
- Waterworld featured a map tattooed on a child's back. As the entire world was flooded, the island it led to was the treasure.
- In Anne of the Indies, Pierre has a half of a treasure map showing the location of Henry Morgan's treasure. It is a fake and part of a plan to lure Anne and the Sheba Queen into a trap.
- In The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case, Small gives Sholto and Marston a map indicating where the treasure is hidden in the fortress. After Sholto murders Marston, the map ends up in Marston's personal effects and is eventually passed on to his daughter. She gives it to Holmes who is able to deduce from it what this case is really about.
- In 13 (the American remake of 13 Tzameti), a 'contestant' in the Deadly Game draws a map of where he's buried money from a heist, and tells a guard that if he dies (a likely possibility, as they're playing Russian Roulette) he can take the map off his corpse and keep half the money, as long as he gives the rest of his son. Turns out he survives, so the guard tries to murder him for the map. The other guards intervene, whereupon the contestant brandishes a blank sheet of paper to taunt him, claiming there never was any buried money. He then burns the genuine map once the guard is out of sight.
- In Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Gold-Bug, a hobby entomologist looking for beetles at a beach stumbles upon a piece of parchment with an encrypted message, which, once decoded, points the way to Captain Kidd's fabled buried treasure.
- The map in Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson - Trope Codifier.
- Played with in The Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman, which revolves around the search for a legendary pirate captain's treasure. His old crew know what island it's on but not where exactly it's buried — there was a map, but it mysteriously disappeared after the first mate killed him for it. The map never does reappear, but the protagonist figures out what happened to it, which gives him to clue to where the treasure was buried.
- Subverted in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal. In the first chapter, the imprisoned Moist indicates to his jailers that yes, he has a treasure map to his ill-gotten gains in his pockets, a map full of everything to gladden a treasure hunter's heart, cryptography, puzzles, clues, etc etc. It's fake. According to Moist, any criminal worth the title would simply remember where he's stashed the loot.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Pool of the Black One", Zaporavo has a book.
He desired to learn if this island were indeed that mentioned in the mysterious Book of Skelos, whereon, nameless sages aver, strange monsters guard crypts filled with hieroglyph-carven gold.
- In the Sherlock Holmes stories, the eponymous Musgrave Ritual was in fact a set of steps to find where the crown of Charles I had been hidden. The story glosses over the point that given that the ritual was created circa 1650 and utilized circa 1870, it was only chance that the instructions in the ritual weren't hopelessly inaccurate (The starting point of the ritual is determined by the shadow cast by a certain tree when the sun was above a second tree. After 220 years, both trees would have grown, changing the angle of the sun and the length of the shadow. In addition, all later directions were marked in steps, which vary from person to person. Had the treasure been buried rather than stashed in a hidden basement, they'd have never found it).
- The short story "The Most Precious of Treasures" by Desmond Warzel. Tha map is genuine, but the treasure is...unexpected.
- Kit Williams' Masquerade, published in 1979, was a picture book containing clues to a real hidden treasure: a jeweled rabbit crafted by the author to promote its sales.
- The Quest for the Missing Map, a Nancy Drew book, concerns the "pirate map divided in half" variation.
- The Drew children follow one to find the grail in Over Sea, Under Stone.
- In one of The Riftwar Cycle novels, it's mentioned that selling fake treasure maps was a common trick to get young men to wander out into the middle of nowhere so they could be captured by slavers. The boy who would become Macros the Black was one said victim of this con.
- In Though Not Dead, Kate Shugak gets sent on a treasure hunt by Old Sam's will. It ultimately leads her to an actual treasure map that guides her to the lost icon.
- Nina Tanleven: In The Ghost Wore Gray, Captain Gray left one to where he buried the jewels he’d brought from South Carolina to New York. It’s mistaken for a map to his grave, and a tombstone is subsequently erected over the spot.
- The revived WKRP in Cincinnati did an episode where the gang goes on a treasure hunt inside the (multistory) building that houses the station. In a subversion, the treasure exists, and they find it, but do so much damage to the building in the process they end up merely breaking even.
- An episode of Xena: Warrior Princess included the search for a large, hidden treasure with a treasure map that had been ripped into several pieces. The different people looking for the map were forced to work together as they had memorized their portions of the map and then destroyed them. Most of the treasure was the usual gold trinkets, but it included a place of Ambrosia, which would supposedly would turn whoever ate it into a god.
- Monk notably inverts this in one episode: Troy, the disrespecting, rebellious teenage son of Dr. Charles Kroger, Monk's psychiatrist, found what appeared to be a treasure map inside of a dead criminal's hand while playing hookie. He then ends up dragging Monk along to find the treasure. Turns out the map didn't lead to treasure at all. Here's what really happened: during the robbery, one of the robbers, Jack Connolly, was mortally wounded when he was shot by a guard (who was promptly killed by Jack's partner, said criminal that Troy's friends got the map from after he died of a heart attack). This proved trouble for Jack's brother Steven, who happened to be the bank's assistant branch manager (and had planned the heist with him), after Jack succumbed hours later, since the police would know the robbery was an inside job if the body was identified. So the heart attack criminal was drawn a map that indicated where to bury the body.
- The song at the top of this page from LazyTown fits this trope perfectly.
- The Mad Dog Morgan episode of Wild Boys centres around the a map to cache of stolen gold.
- In Crusoe, the guy who knew the whereabouts of the treasure hidden on Crusoe's island (a golden cannon!) tattooed it onto the back of the guy he was stuck in prison with — while the mapmaker was sinking deeper into dementia. Remarkably, the map worked, though it was coded so only Crusoe could figure it out. The map resurfaces much later as a guide to the island — salvaged from the poor guy's back after he died.
Jeremiah Blackthorn: Is this leather?Santos Santana: Not exactly.
- Friday later explains Crusoe's surprised reaction to seeing the "leather" version by joking that Crusoe "knew the map's previous owner."
- On Leverage, Hardison invokes this during "The Gold Job" when he attempts to run the con, basing it on video game design. Unfortunately, it fails and Nate's 60 second plan actually works.
- The Time Team dig on Looe Island was actually given a real "treasure map" that had been discovered by an amateur historian which, intriguingly, managed to coincide with a real geophysical anomaly. It turned out to be the marker place for a Victorian era flagpole. So much for the treasure of Cornish pirates.
- Bassie & Adriaan: The series "het geheim van de schatkaart" (the secret of the treasure map) resolves around one of these found behind an old painting. It comes with the added difficulty that one first has to solve a riddle to find the starting point of the map.
- The "Skulduggery" table of Full Tilt! Pinball requires the player to assemble a treasure map to find Peg Leg's treasure.
- In Congo, shooting the Map Saucer displays a map on the display; at each juncture, the player can choose one of three routes to take and travel to either the Volcano or Diamond Hunt Multiball.
- The Monkey Island series features this often. Notably the Treasure hunting trial in the first game (also a slight subversion, since the Treasure Map was actually a set of dance instructions, and the treasure was a T-shirt), and the quest for Big Whoop in the second, where finding all pieces of the map took up most of the game.
- Guybrush was very unlucky in the third game, when he had to get the map off of some guy's back. The map was actually sunburned skin. Rottingham said it perfectly: "That's your map? Eeeew."
- Romancing SaGa pulls this off well several times:
- One Treasure is the Opal of Wind that was stolen by Captain Silver from the Bafal Empire, Silver employed Gecklings to haul the treasure in a cave in the jungle, and then killed off all but one who escaped; the one who escaped created a map to get there. You will get this when you complete the Gecklings request regardless.
- The Second is the Moonstone which is hidden in Twinmoon Temple, but you need to get the directions in an ancient language and decipher it in order to get the keys to enter the temple, however you have to be quick in getting it because if you do not, Hawke will get it, which is a better idea since you can pull Wutai Theft on him to get the directions.
- Also you can find maps to regular treasure throughout the game, often more valuable than other treasure you can find.
- In Red Dead Redemption you can follow Treasure Maps and follow them for treasure, achievements, and perks. Also, the character Seth has long been searching for treasure via maps and word of mouth, and though the treasure he threw his life away to find turns out to be a dud, after the end of the game you can read a newspaper which implies he eventually found another one elsewhere.
- Dubloon has a treasure map that also works as a Point-and-Click Map. It begins with humble two islands, and you have to fill it with help from various maps strewn throughout the world. There's also an old pirate who will help you find all the treasure by marking islands you haven't fully plundered yet.
- There were quite a few of these in Pirates!.
- There was a treasure map minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker has a LOT of these. Justified seeing as the majority of the game is based on sailing and navigation. The Dungeon maps may or may not count, seeing as they do show locations of treasure maps..
- Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure justifies this seeing as it's a game about a Pirate.
- Treasure maps are items to be collected in Treasure Adventure Game. They reveal the location of secret passages that lead to dungeons and special items.
- Some examples turn up in the Nancy Drew video games, although they're more likely to lead to an intermediate clue to the treasure than the actual loot.
- Assassin's Creed
- In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, you can find and follow treasure maps. Some just have money, but others contain schematics for elite upgrades for the Jackdaw.
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue also uses the trope in the exact same manner, but they only give you keys to a cage containing a set of 12th Century Templar armor.
- Final Fantasy XIV has treasure maps inside bottles that players can find while mining, fishing, or doing botany. The map shows a small section of the regional map and a red X indicating where the treasure coffer is located. After digging up the coffer, trying to open it will always have a group of monsters attack you since the coffer is rigged with a trap and you have to kill all the monsters before you can open the coffer for its contents (usually rare materials, tomestones, gil, or even a more rare treasure map). Some coffers will require multiple players working together to fight the monsters since a solo player would not survive.
- There are several treasure maps to be found by the player in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, each leading to a particular location with a wooden chest containing loot equivalent to a large chest from the end of a dungeon. In the Dragonborn DLC, one particular map (obtained by besting a group of pirates) provides the locations of each piece of the Deathbrand armour, which belonged to the long-dead pirate king Haknir Death-Brand.
- What's New? with Phil and Dixie demonstrates the usefulness:
The Soulless One: Ever since I started handing out fake maps I've saved a fortune in monster feed!
- In Li'l Gotham, the pirate Greenbeard plants treasure maps to lead unsuspecting tourists into his ambush. When they reach the spot, there is even a giant X painted on the ground.
- In The Story of Anima, a treasure map belonging to the Blackmare Pirate clan is what leads into the Treasure Hunt arc.
- The Simpsons:
- In an episode, Bart and Grandpa do find the treasure, and it's not worthless, but it's immediately seized by the US State Department for return to its original owners.
- Another episode subverted the idea with a parody of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - the criminal lied about the treasure to give himself the time to escape from prison. Of course, the Springfieldians are too stupid to realize that there's no treasure, even after they find a note from the crook telling them the truth.
- On the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Aargh!", Spongebob, Patrick and Mr. Krabs play a board game called Dutchman's Treasure, which Krabs becomes obsessed with. The next day, Krabs claims to have a real treasure map and takes Spongebob and Patrick on a journey to find it. Later, the map turns out to be the game board, which Krabs had taken for a real map. However, it does turns out to be a real treasure map, as they do find the tresure, only for the Flying Dutchman to take it back.
- He did give Spongebob and Patrick a gold doubloon for digging it up for him, while Mr. Krabs got a little plastic treasure chest based on the real thing.
- Raj from Camp Lazlo gets a treasure map marked out on his butt in mosquito bites (It Makes Sense in Context) in "Lumpy Treasure".
- In Donkey Kong Country, DK finds a treasure map, and the entire cast (Minus Cranky and Klump) gets mixed up in the hunt. In the end we learn that DK himself drew that map as a child while playing pirates, and the 'treasure' was nothing more than a barrel full of bananas- bananas that have gone rotten from age.
- A continuous bumper segment of The Beatles has George and Ringo following a treasure map which eventually leads them to what they think is a giant pearl atop a tree. It turns out to be a goose egg.
- The Hair Bear Bunch episode "Gobs Of Gobaloons" has the bears finding the map to a hidden treasure. The problem: it's buried under zookeeper Peevly's office. The bears find it, but a coin specialist tells them the treasure was stolen from the country of Ptomania with imprisonment to anyone who tries to take it for themselves.
Hair Bear: Look, even if we go to Ptomania we're broke.
- Inversion: The whole premise of Hanna-Barbera's Space Kidettes is Captain Skyhook and his crony Static trying to get hold of a treasure map the Kidettes presumably have. The map is never seen nor its potential treasure disclosed.
- In Barbie And Her Sisters In The Great Puppy Adventure, Barbie and her sisters finding a treasure map in the attic is what sparks the plot.
- In the Gofrette episode "The Pirates of Zanimo", Gofrette, along with Fudge and Ellie, try to find his treasure map, sent by his Granny Smith, after two pirates get a hold of it and reach the treasure first.
- The Ruff & Reddy Show: "The Treasure Of Skipper Kipper" story arc has villains Captain Greedy and Salt Water Daffy holding the titular sailor and his parrot hostage in exchange for a treasure's whereabouts. Ruff and Reddy help Skipper Kipper elude the two villains, and he shows our heroes the map where the treasure is located—it's drawn on top of his head.
- Popeye has a treasure map hidden somewhere in his house in an Al Brodax-produced episode, so the Sea Hag employs a circus midget to impersonate Swee'Pea and search for the map while she kidnaps the real Swee'Pea. Presumably successful, the midget and Sea Hag take off for the treasure (giving back Swee'Pea) while Popeye was hip to the plot all along. The map the Sea Hag has is a bogus map while the real map was used as Swee'Pea's diaper.
- Two theatrical Popeye cartoons also dealt with following a map to a treasure, which Bluto covets.
- Popeye's Treasure Hunt and its all-star Hanna-Barbera redeux Yogi's Treasure Hunt used no map as such. Just clues leading to a treasure (some of worth, some not).
- Legend and Wikipedia has it that the notorious pirate Olivier Levasseur, nicknamed La Buse, threw a parchment with an encrypted message into the assembled crowd immediately before he was hanged in Saint-Denis on Réunion in 1730, allegedly accompanied by the words "Find my treasure, ye who may understand it!" note . It is furthermore rumored that, since then, many a father's inheritance has been blown on projects of decoding the message and finding the treasure. You can try your luck, since the cryptogram is obviously in the public domain. However, considering that the cryptogram's history is only tracable back to 1923, there is no hard evidence that the message is original, or that such a message existed in the first place, or that Levasseur ever buried treasure. Spoiler indeed.
- Geocaching is a 21st-century recreational variant of this trope, using GPS coordinates and riddles as the "map" and bragging rights for having found caches as the "treasure".
- The mysterious so-called Copper Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, lists the locations and contents of no less than 63 treasure troves. Archeologists have attempted to follow the directions, but have found nothing.