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This question was raised by one of my players who is playing a third version mystic from unearthed arcana (released on 13/03/2017).

To provide a couple of example scenarios:

  • He has tried to use this on an animated armor (before it moved) to sense if there was a mind present.
  • On a corpse to see if it was actually dead or just pretending to be.

He argues that according to the description of the telepathy feat, a telepathic connection is made between him and his target. And that he should be able to sense if there is a mind present to make this connection.

At 2nd level, your mind awakens to the ability to communicate via telepathy. You can telepathically speak to any creature you can see within 120 feet of you in this manner. You don’t need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic messages, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language or be telepathic itself.

This argument is seems backed by the description of the telepathy spell, which also mentions a telepathic link.

You create a telepathic link between yourself and a willing creature with which you are familiar. [...]

From a story/roleplaying perspective, this makes sense to me and I sort of agree.

Mechanically speaking it seems pretty overpowered for a second level feature. I know unearthed arcana isn't supposed to be perfectly balanced and imbalances are possible when using playtest content. But I'm more concerned with how to interpret the wording than with actual player power.

So far I've established that talking telepathically with a creature is like regular talking but instead of using sound waves you're using telepathic signals. And instead of targeting everyone within earshot, you're targeting one specific person. But I would be happy to change this if any literature was more specific.

I would prefer an answer with 5th literature sources but if these don't exist, I would be happy with an answer from previous editions as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wish there was consistent rules for something so subjective and ambiguous like this. It seems every person has a different idea for how a concept like telepathy works. \$\endgroup\$ – Bruno Souza Dec 3 '19 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrunoSouza I agree, there's a fine line to walk between cool and overpowered \$\endgroup\$ – Fester Dec 3 '19 at 21:13
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This comes down to whether the Mystic knows when the ability "fails"

The feature states:

[...] You can telepathically speak to any creature you can see within 120 feet of you in this manner [...]

It only works on creatures, and thus will have no effect on corpses or inanimate armors and the like. Thus the Mystic may very well be capable of figuring out whether some object is alive or not.

A similar "detect living creature" radar can be done using cantrips

Take, for example, the friends cantrip which states:

For the duration, you have advantage on all Charisma checks directed at one creature of your choice that isn’t hostile toward you [...]

Another cantrip one could cast is eldritch blast:

A beam of crackling energy streaks toward a creature within range [...]

If the caster were to try to target a non-creature with these spells then they would have no effect. However, does the caster know that this has occurred? It is not entirely clear and the following questions provide some potential answers:

Finally the player states that they should "be able to sense if there is a mind present to make this connection." however, the Mystic's feature says nothing about sensing minds. It would be up to the GM to determine how this feature reacts when targeting an invalid target (a non-creature).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Does a mystic/caster know when their feature/spell targeting a creature failed" is a good rephrasing of my question. Thank you for the links to the questions that came before, I'll definitely read them! \$\endgroup\$ – Fester Dec 3 '19 at 21:12
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I'd say no

As stated by user Medix2 in a previous answer,

This comes down to whether the Mystic knows when the ability "fails"

But I also believe it's important to understand how they know they failed.

Does a sound play in their mind? Does miss appear in their vision? Or does nothing happen at all?

If the case is the latter, then i'd say they don't know the reason it failed, as trying to communicate with a inanimate object would just result in silence.

Then comes the player's statement

[...]according to the description of the telepathy feat, a telepathic connection is made between him and his target. And that he should be able to sense if there is a mind present to make this connection.

Emphasis on the bold text. At no point does the telepathy feat description suggests you can sense the mind of people, that is purely a personal assumption. The telepathy feat also does not say you create a link between yourself and the target.

Although they are both telepathy, the mystic's telepathy feat and the telepathy spell are different sources of telepathy. I don't recommend using the description of a feature as basis of another that is similar, as that could send you down a nasty rabbit hole.

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No

Telepathy, as described, is one way speaking from the mystic to the target. I can speak to a doorknob verbally or telepathically and neither will tell me if the doorknob is alive or dead.

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