Last time I touched on how to eke more roleplay out of your game with a few relatively simple steps. After some thought though, I think there are some additional tips that can help you out -- again without requiring too much work on your part as the DM.
Use their toys
Stephen Radney-MacFarland advocates using special treasures in his last Save My Game article, which can be found here. This is excellent advice in my opinion, particularly the section on snowflake treasures. As he notes, the treasure parcel system is both handy and seen as a bit of a cludge. Parcels make it easy for the DM to determine how much treasure should be given to the party, but the nature of magic items in 4ed often makes them a bit less special. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, magic items were greatly toned down in power in 4ed when compared to earlier editions. Personally, I think this was a good decision on WotC's part as it puts the emphasis back on the character and her abilities, and not so much on the items carried by her. The problem with this though is that they simply are not nearly as special as they used to be. The other problem with the parcels is more of a general design philosophy, and not the parcel system itself. The 6 tiers (i.e. +1 to +6) of items also has a tendency to make them less special to players. Ideally, every five levels or so a player should be upgrading his or her armor, neck slot, and weapliment. The problem here is that this doesn't provide much time for players to get to "know" their items. They are almost constantly looking to upgrade them, but even the upgrades feel underwhelming.
They don't have to though. This is where "snowflake" treasures come into play. The first thing to do is to take a little bit of time and give an item some history. Ideally, this history will also be particularly appealing to one of your PCs. Cater this item's history to mesh with some aspect of one of the PC's background and now suddenly this item looks a lot more appealing to the character. That flaming long sword +2 your swordmage was looking at? Well, now its Witchburner, the legendary sword of Kromwright -- a genesai swordmage who dedicated his life to rooting out hag covens and seeing the hags destroyed. Its still a flaming longsword +2 but its no longer just a flaming longsword +2. More to the point, the item, in and of itself, is no more powerful than a regular item of its level either.
Now you may be thinking "Great, my swordmage has this neat sword, but what happens in five levels?" Should the swordmage anticipate parting ways with Witchburner? Did Drizzt part ways with Twinkle after a couple of adventures? Of course, the fear here is that the swordmage will soon become underpowered, unable to hit monsters, and thus, unable to fulfill her role well. Thing is though, there's absolutely nothing in the rules that says that you cannot have Witchburner level up in five levels and become a +3 flaming longsword. For added impact, have it happen after (or during even) a particularly important battle -- one that has significant story impact. Make it even more special by making the "level up" visible. "Witchburner flares to life, its flame brighter than ever as it slices through the troll's neck. Go ahead and roll an extra d6 for that crit since its +3 now." Doing this gives your players more reason to become attached to their items. Their weapliments become trusty sidekicks almost. As an added benefit, finding magic items to give your players in the future becomes that much easier. Rather than looking for new items, you simply level up some of the ones they have.
Mess with their toys
In his article Joy and Sorrow, which can be found here Chris Perkins discusses the idea of putting a player's toys in danger -- or even outright taking them away. Now, a word of caution is warranted here. This approach can give rise to an absolutely incredible and entertaining arc in your campaign. It can also completely blow up in your face. Personally, I recommend treading very carefully here unless you know your players have a lot of trust in you. Chris Perkins is able to get away with it because, well, he's Chris Perkins! His players know that even when he throws the worst at them, he will give them an incredible play experience. If you don't have that trust yet though, your players may feel as though you are just arbitrarily punishing them
However, there are decent ways to approach this without it completely destroying your campaign. First, its one thing to stack the odds against the PCs, thus creating a likely result. Its another thing though to simply say "Your ship sank last night." To be fair to Chris, we don't really know all the details behind the sinking of the ship in his game. Most players though would be very upset if the toy they had worked long and hard to obtain, and had spent lots of money improving, were to suddenly be taken away without a chance of saving it. On the other hand, if the PCs sail into battle aboard their ship and it soon becomes evident that their opponents have vastly superior numbers, then it won't necessarily feel as arbitrary. Even if the odds are really long, the PCs at least have options on the table. One, they could get lucky in battle and actually win. Two, they could try to make a run for it, thus getting out with both their lives and their ship. Sure, it may be unlikely, but as long as it was possible, it makes it better.
Finally, keep in mind that if you do take this route, that you need to also provide an avenue to reclaim the item (or an even more powerful one). Just as important though, is that you keep an open mind as to how this be accomplished. In other words, take cues from the player(s) affected. Chris Perkins knew that Youngs would want the ship back. He didn't necessarily realize that Youngs would be willing to make a literal deal with the devil to get it though. The fact that this story line came from the player though will only rope the players into the story that much more. No longer are they being lead by the nose by the DM. Instead, they are seeing that they get to decide how the story unfolds. The key here is to always remember that although the DM often creates the world (hopefully with help from the players) and although the DM provides the basic framework for the story of the campaign, the story being told is ultimately the players' story, not the DM's. To put it another way, if the players simply wanted to hear a story, rather than help make one, they's listen to a book on tape, watch or tv show, or read a book, etc. Its the ability to direct the story that attracts so many people to RPGs.
Putting it in Action
So, taking these ideas in mind, I'll share an example from my own game. Like many DMs I had started to struggle with finding new items for my players, even with their wishlists (which most did not provide me) it was difficult to come up with interesting items. Then, as we were heading into Paragon tier, the avenger's player told me he was planning to switch from an Executioner's axe to a falchion as part of his character's story arc. I realized that this was the perfect time to put some of this advice to use.
He had told me he was looking for a Jagged Falchion as it could mesh well with his abilities (darn strikers). I decided to create a legendary falchion that had been passed to numerous members of the Church of Erathis (the avenger's deity) over the years. The story of the item though included in part that it was only ever given out when the need was especially great. It took part in some of the most notable wars in the world's history. It also has a tragic side to it as almost all of its bearers die while wielding it in combat -- though usually only after accomplishing great deeds with it. For a final touch, when the falchion was bestowed upon the avenger, the PC heard the blade speak telepathically to him, hinting at having known the avenger previously. Mechanically, its still just a Jagged Falchion +3, but from a roleplay perspective, the avenger now protects the blade with his life. It has become his most prized possession and he won't part with it for anything. I haven't told him this, but it should come as no surprise now that when the time comes, the blade will improve to a +4, etc. There may eventually be additional properties that are unlocked, and it certainly seems to have a story to tell to the avenger, so we'll see where that goes.
As a side note, the player's reaction to the blade has definitely reaffirmed my belief as to how useful this approach can be. As a result, I plan to do something similar with the other players now. It won''t always be a weapliment of course, but I'll definitely try to find items that can become part of each PC's identity.
Now, I haven't messed with any of their toys just yet, but certainly the immediate attachment the avenger felt for the falchion makes that a potentially great story arc (provided I'm fair about it of course). Frankly, I'm still not positive that I'm willing to go that far, but if the right opportunity presents itself it could lead to a really interesting adventure.
The best part about the falchion is that I was able to come up with the story in just a few minutes. I don't need to provide full details at this point, just a paragraph or two was enough to make the player latch onto it. A couple of minutes has helped to define one of the PCs, a few more will develop the others. All in all, a win win for the group.
As always, I welcome any thoughts you may have as well as any suggestions for future topics.