As an all-knowing GM, you know that there’s a murder mystery coming up in the next town. That’s why you’ve decided to slip an extremely convenient scroll of speak with dead in the nearest evil cultist treasure pile. You watch as the PCs beat up the cult, take their stuff, and add the extremely convenient scroll to their inventory. You steeple your fingers and try not to smile too broadly. Yes…yes…all according to plan. The only problem is that this extremely convenient treasure is robbing your players of agency.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play when it comes to handing out treasure. Put a pile of fungicide in front of your PCs and they know that there’s a Little Shop of Horrors encounter coming up. Give them a few vials of antidote and they know to watch out for assassins. In my mind, this is a laudable impulse in a GM. You’re trying to be fair to those poor saps on the other side of the screen. The party needs some kind of out when the unbeatable ghost/invisible stalker/swarm of bugs comes after them, right? Well no. Very no in fact. I submit to you that this species of treasure distribution is a subset of that most grievous of GM sins: building a “correct solution” into your encounters.

For players there is a fundamental joy to be found in falling into a desperate situation, digging desperately through the depths of a character sheet, and coming out with a silver bullet. That pleasure is ruined if the GM spoon feeds them the answer. I’m not saying you should never give players situationally useful items. However, if you know that those items will prove particularly useful in the next encounter or two, you might want to throw something else on the pile. When players aren’t sticking their heads into spheres of annihilation, they can be a surprisingly canny lot. They know when there’s pandering afoot, and surviving the encounter with that badass iron golem doesn’t mean quite as much when you threw a dwarven king’s ransom worth of adamantine swords at them in the last chamber. Always remember: players are like tyrannosaurs. They don’t want to be fed. They want to hunt. 

Question of the day then. Have you ever received a suspiciously convenient item in a game? Conversely, have you ever pulled a truly genius solution out of your bag of holding? What was it?


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