In 4e it almost seems a requirement to allow player wishlists for magic items. How do you manage these? How do you ensure parity?
How do the new rarity levels impact this?
I ask my players to email me anytime they think of or read something they'd like their PC to have.
I keep these requests in a list. Then I tap this list often:
In my current campaign one player requested random magic item tables. He wants some old school flavour. So I took several player item requests, made an index card for each, and put the cards in a box.
At special times, for story rewards, I'll let a player draw from the box.
I control what cards go into the box, so I can ensure odds are fair, items are balanced, and whatnot. Players love drawing from the box! (No one has drawn the cursed items I put in there yet....)
Honestly, I never understood the hubbub arround player wishlists.
If you have a mage, a sword fighter, and a ranger in any edition of dnd that i played, you made sure they got something they could use.
All the wishlist does is inform the gm of what the player would want.
When I handle the treasure parcels for my game this is what happens.
1> I decide if I want any story specific items.
2> I decide if I want any player requested items.
3> I round the rest of the lot off with consumable items and gold.
Occassionally I will throw in a randomish weapon to see what the pc's will do with it (for example, I gave my non crossbow using party a +3 crossbow at level 5ish just to see what they would do with it, they hung it up on the wall because it was a part of a wedding dowry.). But thats part of the Story Specific Items.
As for Parity, if your actually following the treasure parcels, your characters are receiving close to an item per level regardless of how many there are (the number of parcels per level changes based on the number of players). When your throwing out 3, 4, or 5 magic items a session and are using wishlists, you'll have lots of chances to hit everyone's wishlist.
When in doubt, consider using the Character starting at level other than 1 idea for managing equipment. In generally a character should have a n+1, N, and n-1 level magic item (generally a weapon, an armour and a neck slot/impliment) if your worried about their attack falling behind the curve, but honestly you have to be way back there to make the hugest difference. The difference between +3 and +4 is not so drastic as to require immediate fixes.
Honestly, I find this is just waht dnd, dm's have been doing forever, with a tad more communication between players and gms.
To balance this I think it's best to add shopping back in. Give more gold than the standard expects, and less items. Let the players buy what they want, within reason. Make sure to mix in some item treasure, but don't worry about filling every item slot for every character.
The advantage of doing this is that it removes the burden of equipping the characters from the DM and moves it back to the players. It also eases the burdens of parity, as gold is equally valuable to all roles.
The disadvantage of doing this is a loss of control. A character who is able to spec how they want and buy what they want can throw a serious hitch in the DM's plans. You can always reign in a player though, by saying that an item or items aren't available for sale, or have a higher price than normal.
Finally, save the best items to give out yourself. The things the DM gives out in treasure should be things the players get excited about, not the mundane things they need. I want that +3 Hammer of Staggering from the demons treasure trove, I don't really care about the 10 potions of healing.
IMO the 'best' items, the ones players really do want:
I'd treat a "wish list" just like Santa does.....and since Santa doesn't exist, you get my point.
One of the concepts of the game is (or should be) dealing with situations that the players aren't in control of, whether it be combat or other. When you get to the point where a player is asking for (and receiving) specific items, it's not even D&D anymore, it's a wish-fulfillment fantasy that the DM has the dubious honor of participating in.
A much more interesting dynamic to the game would be to have the treasure horde contain some useful treasure, some not so useful, and let them figure out how to use it. For example the player wants a specific sword and have the treasure horde contain two swords, both close to but not quite what the player wanted, and let him choose if he wants either, or neither, and how he proceeds from there (rather than giving him the EXACT item he has told you he wants).
The storyline of the campaign is much more interesting when a player has something to strive for, and if they are handing wish lists to the DM knowing they will eventually receive everything on it, your campaign will lose a lot of it's edge. Much better for the DM to not tell the players when or even if they will run across a much coveted item. Sure you can eventually steer some good loot their way, but it should be the DM's decision and not due to the DM checking off a player's list of goodies like checking off groceries at the supermarket.
In the 4e game that I was in, we had an extremely sophisticated google spreadsheet tracking current residiuum value of gear, average levels, and other factors which created what amounts to a "need versus greed" chart.
Thus, those who had the lowest rated gear would get first dibs on incoming items and cash, up and through the list.
We then had a separate tab with the next 7 levels listed. Each level had a space for a gear request and its importance. from 1 (not very) to 5 (critical to build).
The net result of this spreadsheet was absolutely without value. While the players (like me) who liked planning had sophisticated wishlists, there were some other players who completely ignored the mechanism, putting the work back on the GM trying to find thematic items which fit their builds. Even worse, by mid-paragon, many of us had quite solid item choices and were merely upgrading items instead of switching to others.
My first recommendation is to move to inherent bonuses, which takes a lot of the "obligatory treasure grind" out of the equation.
My second recommendation is, instead of asking for wishlists, ask for "search terms" or "keywords" that players are interested in, generally. For example, we had an assassin in our group who loved teleporting and being bloodied. And so, under this system, he could say "teleportation, bloodied" which gives the GM terms to input into DDI. (Valuable even without a subscription as an index.)