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I'm a big fan of the Earthdawn take on magic items. When you find a magic item, in order to use it you need to learn some of it's history, and spend legend points (Eathdawn XP) to bind it to you.

As you learn more about it, it's name, the name of the first hero to wield it, the name of the first horror it killed, and as you recreate great deeds that it performed or atone wrongs committed with it, you can bind it further to yourself (with further legend point expenditure) and gain access to greater bonuses and powers. In this way, the item can stay with you for a significant duration, as what starts as a (in DnD terms) +1 long sword, could by the end of the players career be a +6 holy avenger (or the like).

The named artifacts in DnD4e seem to map reasonably well onto ED magic items, and it would seem that gaining concordance by doing tasks such as "slay an undead, max 1 per day" could be replaced with discovery of the item's history and the like, while the concordance chart and enhanced abilities as the concordance grows could allow for the increasing power of the item as it is bound to the character.

What is missing though is the investment by the character in that particular item.

  • Having the player spend experience points on the item doesn't sit well with me, as that mucks with the "party is at the same level" assumption of the game.
  • Having the player spend money on the item doesn't feel like a significant enough investment.

Does anyone have any good alternative resources that players could invest into items?

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One feature that I especially like about Earthdawn style magic items, is that players can have their characters treat magic items as being integral parts of their identity, rather than as throw away tools that suggested core 4e makes them seem like. –  Simon Withers Sep 21 '10 at 1:11
    
Wish I saw more Earthdawn questions on here... My first love <3 –  Daenyth Sep 22 '10 at 13:30
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If you want the players to expend a resouce as part of the investment (as your question seems to imply), the obvious choice would be a healing surge. Perhaps initially unlocking the item would require the player to permanently lose one healing surge (or at least lose the surge while they own the item).

Carl

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You are correct in your reading of the question - that I'm more focused on the resource expenditure part rather than the item advancement part. As I noted, artifacts give an idea of how to model item progression, and Pat Ludwig also pointed out passages in the AV that guide item progression. –  Simon Withers Sep 22 '10 at 19:19
    
I like the idea of using healing surges, and there is also the inverse option to losing the surge while they own the item, of losing the surge if they give up on the item. –  Simon Withers Sep 22 '10 at 19:20
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The Adventurer's Vault (p197) gives some basic guidelines on handing out Item Levels as treasure, which seems to be what you are aiming for.

I think to make it work you'd need to supply the player with a list of tasks or quests to complete to "level up" his weapon/item.

4th edition D&D gives out only treasure as rewards, so basing this Earthdawn system on it is the best way to go. If you were to allow a character to gain improved magic items without spending treasure (or forgoing future treasure) they could become imbalanced compared to the other characters.

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Beat me to the point. I would really want to emphasize using the quest mechanics to bring about the ability/history unlocks. –  Peter Seckler Sep 21 '10 at 14:18
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