Magic item question

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At what point as a DM do you start having the PCs find magic items; be it weapons, rings, armor, or other knicknacks?

Do you base it on the story? Maybe to gear them up for an up coming major enemy fight? Or do you base it on their level or the difficulty of the dungeon they just clear?
At what point as a DM do you start having the PCs find magic items; be it weapons, rings, armor, or other knicknacks?

Do you base it on the story? Maybe to gear them up for an up coming major enemy fight? Or do you base it on their level or the difficulty of the dungeon they just clear?

Depends on the edition of the game. In 4th Edition, they can start finding them right away.

I usually try to have some reason behind them finding an item. I usually have the players help me come up with those reasons, and the items are usually ones they have said that they want for their characters.

I don't specifically gear them up for major encounters. I don't care if they succed in the encounters or not.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I try to have in-game, story based reasons for the items they find. It tends to make the item more "personal" to the character. Also, I have the players come up with "wish lists" of items that they'd like to get for their characters. I don't always give them those, but I try to work with them when I can.

I'm playing 4E and generally use the treasure parcels system to guide me in how many and what levels of items to issue to the players, but if the plot would warrant a higher (or lower) powered item, I have no problem giving it to them.
Around 4th or 5th level in my games.  They may have encountered some 'magic' items prior to that, but generally nothing like armor, jewellery or weapons till a little later. 
Like Centauri said, this heavily depends on the edition of the game.  You don't want a level 3 party from 2e to have half a dozen magic weapons, amulets and armors however in 4e they need it to keep up with the math.  Unless of course you go with the inherent bonus system or something similar.
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Like Centauri said, this heavily depends on the edition of the game.  You don't want a level 3 party from 2e to have half a dozen magic weapons, amulets and armors however in 4e they need it to keep up with the math.  Unless of course you go with the inherent bonus system or something similar.

That's not why I'm saying it depends on the edition. Even in 4th Edition, although the baseline assumption is that they will have them, they don't NEED the items.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

It depends pretty heavially on the setting. In 4e, players generally have enough options on hand to deal with encounters in some form or another. However, in 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5, the game is balanced moreso on the players getting access to powerful magic items as they progress.

There's two ways to handle determining if the players get magic items:

1.) Magic items are options for surviving upcoming encounters. If the players are going to be fighting Lycans, you can give them magic items with the Silvered quality to prepare them for the fight. Or, if you want to be a bit more tactical, give them something that temporarily bestows a weapon with the Silvered quality to force them to consider the best time to use it. With this mentality, Magic Items can be solutions to upcoming encounters or problems. That being said, you don't have to make a magic item an instant solution, but they generally provide options (in some form or another) for dealing with a problem.

Or

2.) Magic items are a reward for surviving encounters. If you roll with this idea, the players will usually find magic items in the stashes (or bodies) of slain enemies and survived encoutners. With this mindset, the players may be more encouraged to take on more difficult enounters for better rewards, although they most likely won't be specially prepared to do so. It does, however, add a remarkable amount of satisfaction to finishing a difficult quest or felling a difficult enemy. 

Naturally, someone isn't bound to one idea or the other. A healthy dose of both can be quite nice as well. 

 
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