The more I think about it, the more I think the Essentials magic item rarity system is a huge game fix.
Common Items: no more socks for Christmas
Let’s take a 16th-level party. +3 weapons, armor and amulets are necessities. But all other magic item abilities are perks. D&D is a game about earning perks. In a game about earning perks, we don’t give out unearned perks.
Right now, characters have access to every item, and because players can spend a lot of time poring over the Character Builder, they always end up starting with, or buying, their capstone item. Once someone has the +2 Sword of Meshing Perfectly With Their Other Broken Abilities, no other +2 sword is going to interest them. In fact, they might prefer it to any +3 sword (except the +3 Sword of Meshing Perfectly With Their Other Broken Abilities). A DM has no way to please players but by staying on-wishlist, which is boring. Wishlists limit the number of D&D items in the universe from about a million to about 20.
As a DM, when I’m placing treasure, I’m thinking about what perks to give my players. If every character starts with a +2 weapon or implement with no abilities, I know that a +2 weapon, with any ability, will be valued. As it is, though, I often place cool items all over the dungeon; players find them; they decide their current gear is better; and everyone gets a “socks-for-Christmas” letdown.
Now, with players will be able to buy only generic, +x items, they no longer have the ability to ruin Christmas for themselves.
Rare items: cutting the Gordian cake and eating it too
From the article:
The rules assume that the DM hands out one rare item per character per tier. Rare items are meant to be character-defining, powerful objects that help forge the character’s identity in the world. If you find a flame-tongue weapon, you’ve uncovered an important, powerful blade.
People have been long complaining that they want fewer, more meaningful magic items. That’s always been a problem, though, because frequent magic-items drops are one of the big D&D rewards. If Rare items are really character-defining and once-per-tier, then we can have our cake and eat it too: we have a nifty way of giving the epic Excalibur items while still being able to dole out the routine magical junk that gets people back into the dungeons.
So far, the 4e magic system has been very efficient and sturdy without being very exciting, like a German-engineered school bus. I feel like it’s getting an upgrade: