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.
It’s a magical item day today! The Waxing Sun is a paladin’s sword found in a ruined abbey in my Greyfeather Downs campaign.
This +1 Longsword is a paladin’s weapon. It shines with bright sunlight (and all the effects that sunlight has) out to 15′, and deals an extra d6 damage against undead and hellish enemies.
Any Chaotic character taking the sword must make a Save -1 check. If they fail, they take d6 + [level] damage and drop the blade. If they succeed, the blade transforms into the Daylight’s End.
The Daylight’s End is a +2 Longsword, and it glows with a dim green flame out to 30′ (enough to see and navigate, but not to read). The fire in the Daylight’s End is a hellish fire, and does not create heat.
The Daylight’s End is a dark knight’s blade. If an Order character tries to wield it, he must make a Save check or take d8 + [level] damage and drop the blade. If he succeeds, it transforms into the Waxing Sun.
The Fetish of Eddermung is a sentient demon skull connected to a living demon corpse in the astral plane. The physical skull has been encased in a thin layer of living stone and, when placed atop a staff or spear, is used by the Eddermung tribe of hobgoblins as a watchdog. As hate incarnate, the skull both envies and despises all true life, cursing and demeaning them in every living language and ten thousand forgotten ones.
Superstitious, relatively unintelligent species (they must be sentient) can often be kept at bay simply by posting the Fetish outside a room or cave. It can see perfectly well in utter darkness or blinding light, and its half-phased body exists in the astral plane. This splice is what makes it immobile, but allows it to attack any beings that attempt to pass by it while phasing. More than one magic user has met his end by accidentally transporting himself while carrying the Fetish in his pack.
An adventuring party could make use of the Fetish as a sentry or a ward against wandering monsters reclaiming a dungeon that they are in the process of claiming. By carrying the Fetish in a sealed sack, or by securing its eyes with a blindfold, the Fetish can be transported in silence. If it catches sight of your party, however, its screaching could alert several hundred feet of dungeon to your presence.