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What is the best way to introduce a signature item to a player? By signature I mean a weapon that stays with them as they progress levels and is associated with who they are and not discarded/exchanged just because they level up but remains useful stat wise.

The focus of this question is on the mechanics, but I always appreciate other story-driven solutions.

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To clarify, you're asking for ideas on how to represent the item improving in the fiction of the game? Or are you asking for ideas on how to reveal to the player, in game, that the item he just found is a signature item? – cr0m Oct 29 '10 at 16:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would go with something similar to the artifact rules, but with more significant power ups (ie, at low heroic, it should be a +1 sword, but by mid paragon it should be a +4 sword), and require quests of some sort to unlock the higher "concordance" powers.

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Make the weapon have powers that can't be used (or even known about) by a lower-level player. Frodo wielding the One Ring could only do so much with it -- Gandalf wielding the same ring would be far more powerful.

When Thorgrim the Bold (level 2 fighter) finds a fine steel blade (strangely untouched by the ages) in the barrow of the old king, it seems to just be a longsword. When Thorgrim's party travels to a goblin delving, he discovers that it's +1 against goblins. As he advances to level 3 or 4 or 5, he finds that the sword is now a +1 against giants and ogres as well. At level 10, the sword awakens and begins to whisper to him, whispering the secrets of the old king who once wielded it.

There's no reason the nature of an item has to be fully known by the players from the start. It's old, it's strange, it's otherworldly -- and therefore it's not fully understood.

If you're worried about players discarding a sword that they've decided must be just a plain old longsword, give it more ambience, more interest. It's easy to toss aside a sword you found in a pile of junk in an orc's hut. It's hard to throw out a sword you found clasped in the bony hands of the dead king in his tomb, a sword engraved with runes of a language no one can recognize, a sword made in a long-lost style. The orc's sword and the king's sword might seem to perform the same in battle, but the king's sword has far more interest.

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Handwave it

Instead of giving them new items, tell them that the "new" items they get just improve the old items they have. Their level 2 quicksilver blade turns into a level 3 quick weapon or a level 4 opportunistic weapon.

Yeah, this means that they lose powers and gain new ones. That might be a bit strange, but the player was just gonna throw away the lower level item and pick up the new one anyway. Just say it's the same weapon and that it changes how it works sometimes. At level 7, it can become a quicksilver blade again (now +2).

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The item could be something unique that doesn't use one of the standard slots, like an armband or tabard or just some kind of idol that gives them a bonus for having it on them. That way the item wouldn't be replaced.

From a story perspective, the item could be sentient and give useful information when consulted. It could be important to your storyline as a whole, eg. the One Ring. You might even try to give the item sentimental value to the player, through a likeable NPC that passes it on as their dying act or something.

From a pure stats perspective, this item could scale with player level directly. Such as "Use: (Daily) Add an item bonus to your next attack equal to half your level."

You could use some combination of these, depending on what the player is most motivated by.

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Doing this would somewhat change it from D&D: But consider ways of augmenting the item like Runes. They have a sword capable of holding say three Runes at a time. As they progress they find lots of other "vendor trash" swords, but along the way they encounter more powerful runes they can bind to the sword they have long associated with.

Also, Joe's answer is absolutely fantastic.

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