I love world creation. I like making up complex worlds with a lot going on and creating a sense of history for the world. I want to make it feel like it stretches beyond the story being told now and, if things go well, that it will continue one for ages to come. That can always be a tricky prospect in any story-telling format, but it can be especially tricky in D&D because no one cares about the past unless you find ways to tie what is going on now to the past. The same can be said of books, but generally the characters in a book are more easily maneuvered into seeing the importance of the past than people playing characters in a D&D campaign.
While there are an endless number of details you can use to draw attention to your campaign’s history and what went on before the characters showed up, not every player is going to be willing to let their attention be drawn. Even then, a lot of the historic information feels like it has been created just to add motivation or information to a present situation, so the depth is lost. My favorite way to add some depth beyond constant references to things that happened long ago and ancient ruins that weigh down their halls with history is a mechanic that D&D 3.5 called Weapons of Legacy. It even has its own book by the same name.
The idea is that certain weapons (or armor, shields, or general items) had so much magic and power invested in them by someone that they started taking on a life of their own. They became these immensely powerful things that show up throughout history, in the hands of different owners who just add to the thing’s legacy. There are a whole bunch of pre-made items in the book and each one has stories about how the legacy item came to bear its current legacy, what has been done with it since then, and where it might be waiting for a new bearer. It even has rules for making custom weapons of legacy, either for enterprising DMs who want to add depth to their world or for players who want to create their own legacies as their characters grow in power.
I enjoy creating legacies as characters grow because it can be really fun for their legacy item to suddenly manifest powers when they’re in a tight corner. It adds a lot of flavor to the characters as they grow and can help them find direction for their growth when players are otherwise struggling to figure out what is next for their character beyond the continued adventure. I prefer to make them myself, perhaps a little tailored to fit my players, so they’re forced to do some research and learn about the past. I like to tie them to plots going on so players become invested in resolving the plots and ensuring that everything eventually gets resolved rather than forgotten about.
The part I enjoy the least is the number of feats and penalties involved in a weapon of legacy. Sure, they’re often WAY more powerful than any other single item in 3.5, but I feel like the penalties take away from the fun and power the players are supposed to feel as a result of the legacy. I don’t mind if my players wind up a little over-powered because it makes them feel like they’re powerful enough to change history. That is, of course, until I throw a dragon turtle at them that nearly takes out the entire party and would have if the entire party besides the Bard weren’t strikers who can deal high damage to single targets. True story.
Honestly, the flavor parts of the legacy items are my favorite parts. I like coming up with the origins and history of the item, in addition to what the Weapons of Legacy book calls the “omen,” or the thing that hints that this isn’t just an ordinary weapon. Combining that with the Individual Magic Effects from the Goblins webcomic makes for some REALLY fun effects when a character picks up and uses a legacy item. They’re all-around fun for me to make and add to my campaign, my players love the power and history they add, and cool stuff (like a dagger made from the largest piece of a shattered Reaper’s scythe) is cool.