Mental Domain Brainstorm –
Mental domain is about interacting with the environment. We can’t use knowledge/craft/profession random die rolls because it makes little sense that a player should fail in these.
- If, for example, basic knowledge is indeed basic, the chance that a character with that basic knowledge should fail a question in that domain is so remote that it’s not worth simulating with a die roll.
- Furthermore, this domain is about interaction. A player should not be wondering if he failed the knowledge check because his character doesn’t know, or if he just rolled badly (except for questions on the borderline). He should just KNOW he failed or succeeded due to his level of skill.
So how to simulate this:
Knowledge/Craft/Profession skills become powers. The player spends to buy, say, a “basic engineering knowledge” power, and thereafter his character can answer basic engineering questions, no roll required. To give the system some excitement, there are many levels of knowledge, and a character must roll for knowledge checks at his level, or +/-1 level. Anything below and he succeeds automatically, and anything above he fails automatically.
Mental Domain Attempt #1: INTERACTION with the ENVIRONMENT
The purpose of the Mental Domain is to indulge the puzzle-solver adventure-game type of playstyle. Players working in this domain don’t want to kick in the door, they want to figure out for themselves how to get into the room. How do we support this style of play? Part of the onus is upon the DM to follow good adventure-game puzzle building rules (see Gilbert’s Rules of Thumb). However, certain skills and powers can be built with this purpose in mind.
Versus Physical Domain:
Physical Domain skills are used to act on the environment, not interact with it. Therefore, all physical domain skills work according to a pass/fail basis, such as attacks. Uncertainty is just fine.
Mental-based skills shouldn’t work this way; instead, they should support the puzzle-solving style. To do this, the skills must be “trustworthy”; i.e. they must either tell the player “Yes, you’re getting closer to solving the puzzle”, or “No, this will not lead you to the solution”. There should be very little luck involved.
Mental Domain Method:
By investing in skills, the player should be compensate with a commensurate amount of “hallpass power”. For example, the player has invested a reasonable amount in the Open Lock skill, through a “Basic Open Locks” power. This grants him the ability to open ‘basic’ locks, but not ‘advanced’ locks. When it comes to any given lock, if the player fails, he knows he failed NOT because of dumb luck, but because the lock is simply too hard. This tells him that he cannot “solve the puzzle” this way, and must come up with a new solution.
So where does actual dice-rolling come into play? It comes into play ONLY when the result of the roll will not change the player’s opinions about the puzzle solution. For example, if the player is trying to disarm a trap and the DM tells him that, because of his current level of knowledge, he only has a “small” chance of success, if the player fails, he need not abandon his line of reasoning.
Summary: Skills such as all knowledge skills, open lock, disarm trap, etc., should be based on a character’s knowledge. The player should also KNOW ahead of time an estimate of his chances of success. (Alternatively, he should know his chances of success versus a standard .. so that he can guess-timate the difficulty of the challenge he is facing, based on how often he fails against it).