One of my least favorite aspects of all versions of Dungeons and Dragons have been the prevalence of vanilla “plus” weapons. They’re just boring. A long sword +1 feels an awful lot like a purely mechanical reward–less “magic” and more “accountant”.
It takes very little imagination to add a minor cantrip or bit of flavor to a magic weapon to make it exciting, but it provides a tremendous amount of interest versus the simple “plus” bonus.
This is not to say that magic weapons should not come with plus bonuses, but these plus bonuses should reflect the magic nature of the weapon, not define it. Take a look at my Waxing Sun/Daylight’s End dual sword for an example of what I mean, and here are a few more sample items to illustrate how minor mechanical effects can add a lot of variety to low-level magic rewards.
This rapier bears a coal-black pommel that appears to be made of rough stone. When in combat, the blade and hilt both emit a dull red grow that eventually burns as brightly as a candle. The glow extinguishes after 1d6 minutes. The blade, when placed in a pile of wood or fabric, can be commanded to ignite the touched material. This ignition will take about five seconds of intentional, unbroken contact. And it’s +1.
This heavy flail crackles with electric power whenever the wielder swings it through the air. When fighting with this weapon above ground, there is a 10% chance per hit that a lightning bolt will strike the head just as it impacts an enemy. Treat this as an extra 6d6 electrical damage. It’s up to the DM whether this effect can occur in cloudless weather. If not, I suggest that there is a +20% chance of storm weather per day wherever this weapon is carried. It is a +2 mace.
This 6′ long staff is made of a pale, unblemished piece of pine. A single channel, maybe 1/4″ deep, runs in a spiral the length of the staff. One time per day, the wielder of this spell can cast any first level spell he knows in exchange for a memorized spell (this does not increase spells per day). It is a +1 staff.