The Discovery mechanic was added in new with world 5 and the Curiosity study system.
Discoveries have two purposes. The first, primary purpose is to create a feeling of wonder in the world to new players. As players discover each item in the game world, new crafting recipes and buildings open up allowing the player to do more and more with the materials they find when coupled with purchasable skills such as Metal Working or Pottery.
The second purpose is providing bootstrap learning points for new characters. Without these quick, immediate LPs, gaining the basic initial skills--Foraging, Hunting, Fishing, etc.--becomes delayed leaving the player with almost nothing to do for the first couple of hours of the game. With these points, players can dive right into the game and start discovering new things and trying to survive.
Before a player can craft anything with a character, the character MUST discover all the ingredients first. Sometimes an item needs more than its ingredients to be able to craft it; for example, to craft a pipe you need to have discovered clay AND tobacco or other smokeables. The first time discovering an item is almost always identified by an icon appearing over the character's head of a couple of spinning gears with an exclamation point in the middle. This is often the biggest problem for completely new players. The player will look something up and see the recipe but not have it in game. They won't realize that they might be missing the discovery for something obvious. Bones seem to be the most common early item. Later it might be things like straw or plant fibers.
Items dropping to the ground are another common problem. Some items, such as bear teeth or deer antlers, must be picked up into the character's inventory to get the discovery for them. However, if the character has a full pack, anything that would overflow is dropped to the ground. This is considered normal and fine usually. The problem is when a player just killed their first bear. A bear skeleton requires 16 inventory slots to pick up, 12 bones and 4 teeth. That means a character needs 13 free to get the discovery for the tooth. If the backpack only has 11 free spaces, then the character collects 11 bones, one is placed "in hand" (on the cursor), and the four teeth just drop to the ground. This has been reported as an issue, but no fix has been reported or publicly announced as planned.
The final issue many players have with the discovery system is with trade. If a character hasn't discovered an item directly, they can't do anything with it, making it useless to trade for. There have been some workarounds found, though. (Unsure if these were originally included as part of the discovery system or added in after the first complaints of a "trade nerf.")
- The following can't be emphasized enough: When trying to figure out why you can't craft an item, make sure you have discovered all the ingredients first. If one of the ingredients isn't easily obtained, try using the barter stand suggestion below.
- Most equipment items have LP granted upon discovery. If a player didn't already discover a piece of equipment their self, then equipping the item and removing it via shiftclick from equipment screen to the inventory triggers the discovery.