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Set in the medieval period the one where King Arthur was supposed to obtain a certain quest reward from lady of the lake.

Magic strength in this universe depends on species and most importantly the affinity that ones had been born with, humans seemingly spanned both ends of the spectrum. An enchanted weapon is crafted by bestowing a regular weapon with a magic property, you can only have one magic property on a weapon and subsequent enchantment will rewrite the current magic property regardless of talent. Given the high trading value of metal at that time why aren't people recycling those enchanted weapons? Note that durability of a weapon is only affected by colliding with another object or a nasty foe so theoretically there is no upper limit for applying new magic properties on a weapon.

Recycle: rewrites magic property of enchanted weapon.

Reforge: melt down the metal and then make into new one.

Reuse: switch between ownership

Repair: self explanatory

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    $\begingroup$ Are we talking about smelting it and reusing the parts recycling, or simply reusing a whole weapon/item? $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Dec 22 '20 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ Recycling: reuse with a different echantment or "fix a broken sword" or "melt down metal and reforge into new weapon"?? $\endgroup$ – Michael Kutz Dec 22 '20 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKutz: recycling a weapon here is referring to overwriting a magic property of an enchanted weapon. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 22 '20 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ Recycling would require the effort to remove traces (or even whole) previous magic. Why do that if you can just take new sword? Instead of two magic tasks you have one. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 22 '20 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ @SRM: edited for clarity $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 23 '20 at 2:53

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It's simple economics.

Once a weapon is enchanted, it's a much better weapon in some respects. The thing is, weapons aren't normally judged on a wide-ranging, complicated scale. The enchantments people will pay for will all be more or less the same - supersharpness, unbreakability, flame generation, soul reaping, etc.

Once you've acquired one of these weapons, there will be a ready buyer for it. So why bother adding a new enchantment?

EDIT - as a result of a comment by Hobbamuck, I should point out that there is an alternative.

In my original answer, I've assumed a sort of common-sense Swords and Sorcery approach to the question of what "enchantment" means. This is by no means certain. Let's say that there are a million Demon Realms, and a weapon can be enchanted to be powerful only in one realm. If I'm going Adventuring in a new realm, it would be natural to want my weapon to be enchanted to be powerful in that realm - but with a million possibilities it's unlikely that there would be a weapon on the market which has the enchantment I need.

Particularly if the base (unenchanted) weapon is more expensive than the enchantment, it would make sense to purchase the enchantment I need for the mission at hand, rather than conducting a long search to find the one I need.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly this. If I go through the trouble of making a new enchantment, why would I REMOVE an old one in the process? It's wasted effort, even if that old enchantment isnt my style $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Dec 23 '20 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok You might if that enchantment had negative consequences. E.g. "Once drawn, this sword may not be sheathed until it kills somebody. Attempting to do so will cause the sword to kill its owner". $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Dec 23 '20 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok - See my edit. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Dec 24 '20 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman - See my edit. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Dec 24 '20 at 15:37
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Assuming an ideal spherical free market in a vacuum, recycling becomes rare if we go by these axioms:

  • An enchanted sword is worth more than the same weapon without an enchantment.
  • Magicians seek to make a profit.

A magician who decides to sell enchanted weapons must acquire weapons to transform. It only makes economical sense if the output of the process is worth more than the input, by which I mean that a wizard must sell their weaponry for more than the price of the weaponry they bought (plus labour cost and any magical materials consumed). Replacing an enchanted sword with another enchanted sword does not bring the wizard profit, so they must be using unenchanted swords if they want to stay in business.

One could bring up the fact that multiple enchantments exist and some may be more valuable than others, but in a free market the value is inversely proportional to the supply. Ergo, there must be fewer wizards who can make the enchantments that are worth a lot - else every sword would be equipped with the desired enchantment over time, making the price drop.

That means that a minority of weapon enchantments involve sword recycling, for it is only even an option for the high-end wizards, and they could make greater profit if they started from an unenchanted weapon.

This only changes when swords are in such short supply that there are fewer weapons than magicians, but that would make unenchanted swords worth more than enchanted ones and break the entire business model of an enchanter.

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  • $\begingroup$ But if you find a sword from the greatist swordsmith of legend, with some obsolete enchantment, that would be "recycled" (with a new enchant) right? This answer mostly assumes all unenchanted swords are about the same. $\endgroup$ – Owen Reynolds Dec 22 '20 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ "A magician who decides to sell enchanted weapons must acquire weapons to transform": Who said they sell weapons at all? I pictured magicians as working on commission for people who already own swords. House painters don't sell houses... $\endgroup$ – MJ713 Dec 22 '20 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ @OwenReynolds Yes, but those cases would be in the minority, unless enchantments went out of date extremely fast. I assume that a more valuable enchantment can only be applied by a more skilled magician, who would be a minority of magicians. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Dec 23 '20 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ @MJ713 fair enough, I did picture it more like an enchanter with a shop including potions, charmed amulets, and enchanted weapons, but your picture makes sense too. I'm still curious if the economy would change much under that model; surely a sword owner would only enchant the sword if it increased its usefulness, and with that its value on the market. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Dec 23 '20 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'd add a third axoim: not all weapons are enchanted. If enchantments are so ubiquitous that basically all weapons are enchanted, then recycling would still happen I think. $\endgroup$ – Phoenix Dec 24 '20 at 3:40
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There's more incentive to NOT re-enchant a sword than you might think

Swords are a dime-a-dozen. They're made by the thousands for the military. Swords are everywhere. It's almost as if you can't swing the proverbial dead cat without hitting one.

And since there's no benefit to enchanting a sword twice, there's no motivation to do it. In fact, one could say that there's motivation to not recycle magic swords because that minimizes the amount of magic in combat.

Think about it. Your thousand-man infantry could have a thousand magic swords, or one sword that's been recycled a thousand times. What's the motivation to recycle that one sword? There is none.

So there's nothing really about magic swords that make them less desirable for (re)enchantment, it's just that the world is a better place when you don't do it.

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Note that durability of a weapon is only affected by colliding with another object or a nasty foe so theoretically there is no upper limit for applying new magic property on a weapon.

Clearly this is not so. If people are adverse to recycling enchanted items, it would be because overwriting an enchantment degrades the physical or mystical properties of the materiel.

(See experiences in early magnetic data storage media where you could record over a tape a limited number of times before noticing a decrease in quality.)

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The enchanting works along the same line of the fingerprint identifier available on some smartphones: it activates only when the legitimate owner tries to use it, else it doesn't.

And in this case Pommegranate INC., which patented the enchanting process, has no economical incentive in allowing a second user to access the item, preventing them from lucrating on the royalties.

The process leaves a permanent trace in the metal, and it has been shown by experience that overwriting leads to unwanted effects. Even worse if the overwrite happens with a different bearer.

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Because magic won't be overwritten. If someone tries to overwrite an enchantment, the result is instead a dual enchantment. Sometimes this is helpful, other times not so much.

  1. Worst Example: Let's say you have a Sword of Fiery Fury; it's as hot as if it just came out of the forge, so it tends to ignite and/or burn whatever you hit it with. However, since you've realized the innate problems with this, you want that enchantment overwritten by Fearful Aura (the weapon inspires fear through its presence) instead.

Instead, you get a sword that swings and pulls itself around (violently) to hit everything within range. Oh, and it burns and/or ignites everyone and everything in range except you. You can only sheath the dang thing after the battle's over (ie. after all the enemies are dead or aren't enemies anymore) and so you only take it out as a last resort.

Best Example: Once again, you have a Sword of Fiery Fury. However, this time you want its enchantment overwritten with Frigid Fury (extreme coldness). You end up with a Sword of Furious Frostfire, which releases icy blue flames on impact, igniting the area (what it hit). These flames spread, burn, but otherwise act like ice, freezing (and therefore immobilizing) the unfortunate victim. In other words, your enemies will end up disintegrated, leaving behind a crystalline formation of frigid flames that burn and freeze to the touch in their image. Eerie and effective!

Since recycling is therefore impossible, people think very hard about the enchantments they put on their weapons and only go for "overwriting" when they want a new fusion enchantment. New enchantments can be added, you just can't overwrite or otherwise remove already held enchantments.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good idea but perhaps your examples could be better - at the moment it is sounding like overwriting spells can produce some powerful, and desirable, effects. If you emphasise some of the more negative consequences I think this would be a great answer. Maybe the results are always unpredictable? Perhaps the overlapping of magical phrases could even produce effects hitherto unknown to magic or things that just mean nothing at all. You've got a lot of scope with this one and have a good start to build off. +1 $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Dec 23 '20 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Taking back your example of fire + frost enchantment : When you strike with the sword, it moves all the heat from the sword's tip and move it back to the handle, freezing your opponent, yes, but burning your hands at the same time, meaning you drop your sword in pain. Not great. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 23 '20 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ This is just an example, but you can extend it for most weapon effects, you can simply change the target of the first enchantment from "others" to "self", which is rarely desirable. Then just find cool ways to meddle the first and second enchantments together to explain why. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Dec 23 '20 at 16:00
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Psychometry:

Psychometry is the magical principle that objects take on the emotions, auras, and impressions of the things around them and the people that use them. So if a man buys a magical sword and uses it to fight a war, there are his feelings of hate for his enemies, the suffering of the dead, and possibly those of his own violent death. Who knows, part of someone's soul may be stuck in there.

So you go and decide you want to inherit your father's sword. If he used it, there's some dark stuff associated with that thing. For a non-magical weapon, no big deal. But dark impressions are a lot harder to get rid of than the mere enchantment that opened the weapon to a larger world of magic. The more powerful the weapon, the more violence that goes with it. Maybe you fight the same enemies your father fought. Fine. Maybe your father loved you and his own feelings towards you are safe. Okay. Are you certain of that? Are you willing to trust a soul-draining weapon in battle with all the hate and anger and death associated with it? Have fun.

So try to reenchant the sword, and those negative impressions don't go away. They are soaked in like a stain. Melt it Down? Maybe you can burn out the taint in the fires of the volcano it was forged in, but otherwise good luck. As for repair, during the lifetime of the owner, the weapon is MAGICAL and is unlikely to need repair. And if it does break, maybe it's because of some really bad vibes that have soaked in. Maybe you're better off just mounting that thing impressively on the wall and getting a new one. But maybe not where the dripping blood and screams of the victims will mess up the floor or disturb anyone's sleep.

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Sometimes it goes boom.

If a weapon has magic on it and you try to add more magic or seriously alter the metal (reforge) then it produces a very big explosion. So to recycle/reforge you first need to remove the existing enchantment, but the technology to do that isn't perfect and leaves some non-removable residue behind depending on factors like how long the enchantment was there, the strength of the enchanter, etc. Depending on the amount of residue it has a chance to go boom when you try to add the next enchantment. If you repeat this process the residue accumulates and the chance of boom goes up. The exact point where it will go boom isn't able to be accurately measured and even guessing how much residue will be left after removing an enchantment is very complicated.

So no one wants to try re-enchanting your old family sword that you swear has only had one enchantment since new because if there's too much residue then it's pretty likely that their workshop will become a pile of splinters. You probably don't even want to remove the old enchantment because it's at least something, whereas if you remove it and no one will re-enchant it then you only have a pointy metal stick.

To reduce the number of magical suicide attacks you can say that once enchanting starts you can't move the weapon and enchanting takes a while with a big, obvious setup. Likewise, it's going to be difficult to take a forge into the middle of an enemy encampment and start heating up a sword to reshape it.

But you do have some myths where a king hundreds of years ago was able to reforge a high-residue sword into a dragon slayer in the hour of need, etc. (And maybe a small industry of research wizards with heavily armored workshops in remote locations and no eyebrows who experiment with pen knives and subtle enchantments, trying to create formulas to accurately calculate how tightly an enchantment is bound and predict if a weapon will be re-enchantable.)

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  • $\begingroup$ "and no eyebrows" LOL +1 $\endgroup$ – Shadovv Dec 23 '20 at 19:05
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Enchanted items are very expensive and thus often protected by a curse for their commissioner. Bloodline curses or password-esque curses are very common to accomplish this.

For example, a rich Lord might have a set of enchanted armor with a bloodline curse that burns anyone not from his bloodline on skin contact. This way, not only can rightful progeny be easily screened, but thieves and other miscreants are discouraged from killing or stealing from young noblemen to obtain their magical items because they'll be crippled by the curses on them and would be unable to use or fence them.

Similarly, an adventurer might have a magical sword that bursts into flames but only when the wielder whispers the command phrase. This command phrase can be something very obscure or even nonsensical and this discourages theft and having the weapon being turned against them by people who don't know this 'password'.

Unfortunately though, over time curses can weaken, conditions can change, and knowledge can be forgotten. If an adventurer dies without passing on the command phrases or activation keys to their magical items, they become expensive magical paperweights. Similarly, an improperly done bloodline curse might deteriorate in functionality when the bloodline of the original owner gets too diluted several generations down the line. This means that wealthy or traditional families often have large vaults full of magical items that they can't use because they can't figure out the command phrases or their curses have made them entirely unusable over time.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand how this answers the question. In fact, this seems like it would give magicians more incentive to slap a new, overriding enchantment on a previously enchanted blade. $\endgroup$ – MJ713 Dec 22 '20 at 23:48
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Enchanted weapons are either 1) never given up, 2) made by the gods. In the latter, the power dissipates because their purpose has been served, so no one regards them any more.

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Old enchantments never die, they just go somewhere else

When a sword is recycled/re-enchanted, the old enchantment is not actually overwritten; rather, it is cast out. After being expelled from the sword, it becomes a free-floating blob of invisible magical energy, seeking a new object that it can latch on to. This is generally a bad thing.

  • Recycle a frost sword? Oops, your well is now a block of ice.

  • Flaming sword? Goodbye, thatched-roof cottage.

  • A sword that strikes fear into the hearts of your enemies? Now the bell around your cow's neck makes you too terrified to milk her.

  • Supernaturally sharp sword? Guess what, the magic went into one of your teeth and you bit your own tongue off.

Swords can be properly disenchanted without unleashing the old spell—it's a bit like unpicking a knot—but it takes a skilled magician and a good deal of time. And if the magician screws up, the energy backlash can melt or destroy the blade.

It's a lot less trouble to just start with a fresh sword.

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In our world, technology gets better as time goes by so disposing of or recycling of our technology makes economic sense - because you aren't going to want to have a 100 year-old computer (can't run Doom on a Colossus).

Traditionally, magical worlds reverse this - magic gets worse over time (lost knowledge, men are weaker in spirit than their ancestors, magic is a non-renewable resource, etc.). So older magical artifacts tend to be more powerful than what can be created today, which means more effort is put into guarding and preserving versus recycling.

Now, in your world maybe that isn't true. Maybe magic is getting better. That might be fun - whole armies having to buy new magic swords every three years because two-year-old swords are really borderline pathetic against the new models. Then you might have to enforce recycling so the landfills aren't filled with old magic items, just dangerous enough if civilians find them, but no danger to someone with modern defensive magics.

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"rewriting" the magic item has a higher cost than the metal. This "cost" can be any of a number of things:

  • Ages the "rewriter" by 20 years
  • Rewriting takes years longer than just enchanting an unchanted item.
  • The replaced magic manifests itself as a highly toxic, corrosive acid vapor, likely to destroy everything around it
  • The replaced magic may have a hidden magical "trap" that fires if it is replaced.
  • etc. etc. etc.
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Why is any of that difficult?

From time immemorial up to around 18-1900 most accounts of the aftermath of battle include details of gleaners gathering up everything from the corpses’ teeth to, yes, full suits of armour and weapons. Why would they not reap that rich harvest, however horrid?

Given the high trading value of metal at that time doesn’t your Question Answer itself? Either people would be “recycling” everything to hand, or they’d see enchanted weapons as something special to be treated differently… more likely, both.

Here, to be treated differently might mean find a specialist gleaner, prolly an enchanter?

Why is any of that difficult?

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so if i understand correctly, they basically get enchantment that they already want in the first place right? since they can order it base on their desire or suitable talents, the chance they change their mind is unlikely especially regarding melee weapon that they are used to or master with and they choose that certain enchantment for a reason. it also can take a while to train your body to get used or accustom with this new enchantment.

sure you may encounter someone that is a bad chemistry with or has advantage against your martial style or enchantment or unit formations/compositions and force you to use another magic enchantment, but as @JBH has mention its far better to enchant blank slot weapon than rewrite the magic of the original weapon, and you may want to use back your old enchantment back later against the others, also now you have two weapon that can work as backup weapons or combine their magic enchantment with.

to explain better why i say you likely need to train your body to get use to the new enchantment of your weapon, imagine you originally use fire sword you likely know the safety movement to make sure the fire or heat dont reach or blow over your face or use proper armor for it and your body likely get use to the heat, outside of knowing how you can control your movement to use the fire to damage your opponent, to fast and you may lose the heat, but still it fitting with/become your martial style. and then you change to electricity, you need to learn a new safety to make sure you dont get electrocute yourself, it likely different than your previous one and require fitting armor against such element too. or if the enchantment boost your physical ability such as speed or strength or maybe make the weapon heavier or lighter, you need to train your body control and timing or perception to get use to that, especially if it boost your speed or manipulate the weight, otherwise it may ruin your balance or stance or you may accidentally overswing that can make vulnerable opening to yourself or make your weapon stuck to deep to pull out, or weaker swing that can result in less lethal damage or not deep enough cut to your opponent, because how light or how heavier to you, outside of your embedded muscle memory or habit not fit for this certain enchantment that can end up injure you.

after all we are talking about weapon here, its not just costly economically to do so, but it also can cost your life or your pride (if we talk about nonlethal duel) and time.

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