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I'm all about the story, and as such, I've always been a fan of long-term attachment between players/characters and their special (usually magic) items. But with D&D 4th edition, it seems the default assumption is that magic-items will be churned-out in favor of items that have the next higher set of capabilities every 4 or 5 levels or so, completely discouraging a story-like relationship between a character and their favorite item(s).

Are there alternatives - such as official rules to allow crafting an item to add level appropriate bonuses and/or powers? Are there other solutions I'm missing?

If there are no official solutions, what house rules have you seen/used to solve this problem?

One approach I'm considering is to simply reveal new capabilities for the items as the character matures, in effect adding capabilities whenever they would have had to replace the gear for something with enough pluses.

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Take a look at rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2860/… which is also looking for similar solutions. –  Simon Withers Nov 25 '10 at 1:48

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up vote 26 down vote accepted

In Adventurer's Vault pg 198 it describe uses for the Enchant Magic Item ritual:

... the ritual can also be used to place a property in a magic item that has no property, or to upgrade a magic item to a more powerful version 5 levels higher. This use of the ritual follows the same rules for enchanting a magic item from a mundane item but reduces the cost. The ritual caster must still be high enough level to create the final item, but the caster pays only the difference in cost between the final version and the item in its current form.

Also, the next page has the new level 4 ritual Transfer Enchantment,which does just what it says for a material cost of 25gp. That would let the rogue snag the property off of the ogre's bloodcut +2 hide armor and put it on her leather armor.

Both have restrictions, though. You can't put a property onto an item of a different slot (i.e. put a property from a foot slot item on a pair of gloves). And you have to respect any restrictions of the property, so you can't put an armor property that is only cloth onto chainmail. So the rogue above couldn't snag barkskin +1 since that is only Hide, Scale. As always in 4e, you can't have more than one property on an item, the new one replaces the old one.

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I was sure that I had read that somewhere, but it's not mentioned in the Enchant Magic Item ritual. Good find! –  Simon Withers Nov 25 '10 at 1:49
    
+1 Adding Adventurer's Vault to my Amazon Wishlist –  F. Randall Farmer Nov 25 '10 at 1:58
    
+1 Agreeing with @Simon Withers: this is a good catch! Now that you pointed out I remember having already read somewhere. –  Erik Burigo Nov 25 '10 at 6:43
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Chosen as best answer, but I wish I could have split the honor with that provided by @Erik Burgio as well. –  F. Randall Farmer Nov 30 '10 at 13:16
    
@F. Randall: Thank you :) But @yhw42's one is actually the answer. –  Erik Burigo Nov 30 '10 at 13:22

I'll head to the Dungeon Master's Guide 2, chapter 5, section Item Components, page 146. A quick and easy way to solve your issue is suggested in the 4. Upgrade or Replace? subsection:

4. Upgrade or Replace? An item created using these guidelines could replace an old item. Or the process could impart a new power to an existing item, upgrading it to a higher level. If the components improve an existing item, consider augmenting another treasure parcel with gold equal to 20% of the older item's value. Because PCs likely sell older items when they receive upgrades, the extra gold makes up for the loss of those items to sell.

So, consider the price of the upgraded version of your item, and subtract the 20% of the cost of the non-upgraded version of your item. This is the cost needed to upgrade the old rusty sword your grandfather lend you to its next evolutionary step on the path to the full Holy Avenger status it is destined to.

This extra cost should appear into an appropriate treasure parcel, while the way the upgrading really takes place could be as varied as the stories we gamers usually forge. Many examples are given in the Items Component section itself, and in the previous Alternative Rewards one (page 136); in particular with Divine Boons and Legendary Boons.

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+1 I've got the DMG2 - thanks for the pointer - you've got the gist of my question perfectly. :-) –  F. Randall Farmer Nov 25 '10 at 1:58

I had a DM that kept giving us the occasional merchant that would know weapons like the back of his hand. A little good roleplaying, maybe a good Diplomacy or Appraise check and some gold, and the weapons came back in a few days with some new bonus, or a random ability that required an extra percentage roll to see if it went off.(That was specifically our rogue's repeating crossbow, that had a slam bolt for firing the entire clip in one round)

Another DM used an intelligent sword to blend with the character's heirloom weapon. Some qualities of both were transferred.

My personal use as a DM is taking the 3.5 idea of implanting gems with magic weapon qualities into the hilt. The number possible were determined by the original quality of the weapon, up to three slots for a weapon equivalent to +3 or more.

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+1 for embedded gems! That is what Final Fantasy VII used! –  F. Randall Farmer Aug 15 '13 at 6:06

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