Instructions for a Magical Treasure Hunt

Whether you want to reproduce this magical treasure hunt for your friends and family or you just want to see how many of the riddles you can solve, follow along. Among other things, you’ll find a ghost, coloured flames, a laser eye, hidden messages, and — yes — brain-teasing riddles.

The game begins

You find yourselves in a dark and quiet castle. The room where you stand is a capacious hall with broad fireplaces on either end of a long table of nine chairs. Cobwebs, dust, and the threadbare character of every furnishing conveys that the castle — or at least this part of it — fell out of use long ago.

Atop the table, beneath a gauze of spider silk and century dust, stand three locked chests, each with a sealed envelope before it.

Also atop the table lie an array of items much newer than anything else in sight, free of dust and perhaps prepared for yourselves: a map of the castle, a Bible, a compass, and several identical handbooks (one for each player).

Scarcely have you taken in the scene when the castle trembles beneath your feet, and a grinding groan reverberates through the salon.

Quest for the Castle Treasure

This is the main quest of the three. The chest for this quest holds a treasure for the players to keep, provided they can find the key to the lock.

More than the others, this quest involves finding and combining quest items and deciphering codes. This is the longest of the three quests, and certain points of it require completion of the other two quests.

Quest for the Altar

This is the easiest quest of the three and requires no quest items from the other two quests. The chest for this quest contains an altar for burning alcohol (along with instructions) for completing certain puzzles in the other two quests.

Instead of one clue leading to another, all nine of the clues are given at once, and the players must retrieve one key for each clue, in any order they please. The keys combine to open the chest.

Quest for the Murderer

The booklets (introductory materials) presented to the treasure hunters at the start inform them that (at least) one of the former occupants of the castle has been murdered by a another of their number and that the murderer is still at large. This quest fleshes out the story with further exposition, as well as gradually instructing the treasure hunters as to the identity of the murderer and how to defeat him/her.

How to: making treasure chests

To get boxes, I visited secondhand stores (e.g. Deseret Industries, Goodwill, Salvation Army) on about a weekly basis until I found enough boxes of appropriate dimension and look.

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The boxes tended not to have hasps for locking when I found them, so as fitted the case, I either installed a hasp of my own or used chains. The question of hasps raises a bit of difficulty because it isn’t easy to find a small, decorative, antiqued brass hasp (I tried Michael’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, OSH). So I was obliged to buy a non-antiqued hasp and antique it myself.

Antiquing turned out to be remarkably easy. I just used acetone, saltwater, ammonia, and a plastic bag, according to the instructions in this video.

What was harder was the fact that this (~$2.50 at Lowe’s) was the only small, decorative brass hasp I could find, and it’s a terrible design. It cannot be installed properly unless either 1) a sizable notch is cut in the small piece of the hinge and the hinge installed backward or 2) the box is grooved with a router in order to recess the tenon.

As you can see from the photos, I used a variety of locks: an antique padlock, a Master combination lock, and two set-your-own-combination luggage locks. Use any sort of lock you please; just ensure that it fits your chain or hasp, and take the style of lock into account when preparing the clues for your treasure hunt.

Moving on

Let’s start by looking at a good set of rules for the players, then go into the Quest for the Altar.

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