Of any edition of Dungeons & Dragons released thus far, Fourth Edition seems the most permissive when it comes to magic item creation. If I understand correctly, a spellcaster invested a point of Constitution (which was lost forever as part of the construction) whenever he or she created a magic item in the earliest editions. That linked your item crafting to your physical health.

Third Edition required a spellcaster to pay experience points, plus a hefty feat tax (Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Forge Ring, Brew Potion, Scribe Scroll, Craft Wand, Craft Staff…) which actually wound up working to the player’s advantage in the end, due to how EXP were awarded. Encounters were actually worth more experience to lower-level characters, so staying a level or two behind the group was beneficial.

Now in Fourth Edition, you only need the market cost of the item, training in either the Arcana or Religion skill, and the Ritual Caster feat. You won’t be able to turn a profit by crafting items, but that isn’t such a terrible thing. In earlier editions of the game, we would be so lucky as to acquire magic items appropriate to the kinds of challenges we were facing at higher levels, being able to make them is a fantastic boon.

Looking at the situation from another perspective, what are magic items supposed to represent? Really, shouldn’t the act of creating items now be worth experience? I mean, before, every magic item was like The One Ring, but in today’s dungeons they’re mandatory for survival. (In Third and Fourth Edition, anyway.)

Some time back, I was discussing with a fellow game master, the possibility of my playing a wizard/artificer in his game, who provided the party with magic items for their adventures. We were both familiar with the article about the Third Edition exploit to craft magic items, and we were both looking for a different approach. We talked about how creating a magic item could be like an adventure unto itself.

This idea stuck with me, and is one of the reasons why I made Creation a skill on par with Theatrics and Athletics in my own game system. Now, I’m looking at Fourth Edition and wondering if Enchant Magic Item shouldn’t amount to a Skill Challenge like any other. Say you can “craft” the magic item you’re supposed to receive for your level without paying its market price, as a Skill Challenge of the item’s level?

Creating a magic item should require at minimum … wait for it … a three-step process. Let’s say that first, you have to research the item and gather the materials, which are either Religion or Arcana checks, as appropriate for your class. Then, you build the item, which occupies the “main phase” of the process. If your research is bad, or you gather poor materials, this is made more difficult.

Finally, you have signature or dedication process, where you name the item and give it a proper function, add your personal mark or flourish to it, and activate it for the first time. If it turns out to be a significantly complex item, you may actually build several prototypes during the main phase, and finish this phase with the final product. Giving a weapon or armor its name and purpose is a pretty big deal in myth.

Here’s the process, summarized:
Phase 1: Research, planning, gathering materials
Phase 2: Prototypes, testing, main construction
Phase 3: Naming, dedication, purpose, blessing

Now, I’m suggesting you allow your players to construct one item per level without paying the market price by using a Skill Challenge, and awarding them experience points for it. Keep in mind that they normally get this item “for free” as a treasure parcel, normally a magic item two levels higher than them. I wouldn’t use this to award their other parcels, just this one magic item. I don’t know how I’d handle the others.