A more appropriate term for this "stuff" is loot (or lewt).
A common adventure set-up is problem caused by a Big Bad Guy (BBG), PCs tackle the problem, defeat the BBG, and get some experience & lewt that lets them tackle bigger problems and bigger BBGs.
While this is a broad, "big-picture" overview of an adventure, it kind of holds true on a single encounter level. PCs engage a foe (combat, social encounter, trap, etc.), defeat foe, get reward. Heck, there is even an acronym for his cycle: KTATTS.
The issue with this cycle is that the lewt is the reward from an adventure. Instead, why not flip the adventure around and put the reward first?
In the last year or so I can think of three times my GM(s) have taken this tack:
- My PC, a Dwarven Fighter, received a higher-quality weapon than normal for his level. The catch? It wasn't a "gift" or earned, but a family heirloom wielded by a Dwarf that died in the battle. A whole new adventure opened up having my PC take this weapon cross-country to the proper heir.
- A group of PCs find a deed to a small estate in small lewt cache hidden in a monster's territory. We weren't even sure that they knew about the deed. The adventure was getting the deed validated, locating the estate, and clearing out the monsters working there.
- Instead of finding a particular magic/quality item, the PCs have to have one commissioned. Just finding someone capable to produce the item is an adventure itself. In my particular experience with this specific hook, the only person skilled enough to make the commissioned weapon worked for the City Guard. Permission to contract with the Blacksmith was only possible after performing a great service for the City. It took months to get the weapon made & when my PC went to go pick it up.....well, the Smithy was burnt to the ground and all the weapons were missing (thanks GM!)