Treasure, magic items, technology — the sorts of things that player characters usually acquire by facing challenges or spending resources.  That is the typical formula for most games.  The players must have their characters accomplish something in order to gain the reward of an item.

Why not just give these things to the PCs though?

Some readers might be laughing at this idea right now, and others might be screaming “Blasphemy!”  To give the PCs items of great wealth, value, or usefulness just does not make sense to some.  PCs having to earn those resources is certainly one approach to GMing that has been used for years, but it is not the only way.

There is nothing wrong with just giving the PCs powerful items even if they have not completed a quest or defeated some villain.  A GM is not violating any rules by doing this, and might actually be enabling the PCs to face greater challenges.

In the original Clash of the Titans film the character Perseus is given gifts (a sword that can cut through solid marble with ease, a shield polished to a mirror-like shine, and a helmet that renders him invisible) at the very beginning of the film before doing anything at all.  Yeah, his pops was Zeus, but the point is that Perseus was just given the gear needed to fulfill his destiny with.

This did not make Perseus’s adventures any less dangerous.  Perseus still had to acquire Pegasus on his own, faced dangerous foes at every turn, and had to face off against both Medusa and the Kraken.  Perseus actually lost the gifts that he started out with as he faced these challenges.  The items helped Perseus, but the items did not make him a hero outright.

The same can be done in a game with PCs.  Such gifts might even be the reason why the PCs start adventuring to begin with.  Imagine a sci-fi game where some poor kids on some forgotten planet uncover an abandoned spacecraft with alien technology that rivals the best gear that the modern game world has to offer.  Suddenly they can leave the planet and go anywhere that they fancy seeing, and all because they just stumbled across this ship.  Personally, as a player that is the kind of pitch that would make me want to jump into the game.

Should this tactic be used sparingly?  That depends upon your group and your game.  For an espionage game handing out cool gadgets at the start of every mission may be fine, but with a fantasy game based upon the medieval ages perhaps it is too much.  For some settings just letting the PCs start with a powerful item that is a family heirloom might be all that is needed.

Consider this the next time you are planning an adventure for your group.  Would giving items with no strings attached help move your game along?  Might it encourage your players to take more risks with their PCs?  Or might it lessen the fun of the session?  Share your ideas on the matter in the comments section below, and if you have used this tactic before in your games tell us about the results.