At one point in Pathfinder's Carrion Crown II: The Trial of the Beast, the module has the PCs encountering a mostly-empty castle. Each room in this castle is lovingly detailed for the DM's benefit, even though most of the rooms are devoid of monsters, traps or tricks. In each room, the only "threat" is that players will overlook some of the treasure hidden there.
Of course, the players have no way of knowing that. They have every reason to expect untold horrors leaping out at them from the flickering shadows.
So how do I, as the DM, choose to run this?
Option 1: Tell it to 'em straightOne choice--the choice I wish I had made--is to just tell the players. "You encounter a mostly empty castle. Each room is devoid of inhabitants, and judging by the piles of dust in many of the rooms they have been abandoned for some time. On searching the castle you discover the following treasures..."
This bypasses most of the loving detail in the module, and shoots down any chance to build tension for the characters as they carefully tiptoe from room to room, cringing as they open each door in the expectation that they will get jumped by another gothic horror.
But this option does have the virtue of sidestepping Paizo's god-fucking-awful perception and detect magic rules.
Option 2: Play it as it liesBut in my infinite wisdom, I didn't decide to go with option 1. Instead, I actually let the players search the place room by room, just like if they were exploring a "live" dungeon. Our play went something like this:
Me: You enter the room. You see lots of smoking pipes and clay jars on shelves that line the walls. Two leather chairs sit in the middle of the room. The air reeks of tobacco.
Player: We search the room for traps. We search the walls, shelves, jars, pipes, and chairs. Do you want separate rolls for each?
Me: No. You search the room and find no traps.
Player: We search the room for treasure. We search the walls, shelves, jars, pipes, and chairs. Do you want separate rolls for each?
Me: No. But I need an appraise check. [Players make the check.] You find some tobacco and some pipes that look pretty valuable.
Player: We search the room for secret doors. We search the walls, shelves-
Me: Okay, shut up already, I get it. Just roll the damn dice.
Player: Ok. I also detect magic.
Me: Of course you do. You find no magic and no secret doors.
Player: Right, then. Next room.
Me: Sigh. Yippie...
Courtney's blog (linked above) does a pretty good job of hammering down what's wrong with this style of play.
Lastly and most damming, the process of 'we search the x', 'roll search', 'you don't find anything' is one of the most mind-numbingly boring things one can attempt to do with friends!Well said, Courtney.
Final Thought: The Death of the Empty RoomThe above scenario wouldn't be so problematic if the exploration had been broken up by combat. It's the series empty of rooms that are the Pathfinder-breaker.
And that's too bad. Interacting with the environment used to be interesting. Whether or not the end result was an increase in character power, empty rooms used to be fun. If you took Gygax's random dungeon generation chart to heart, then 60% of your rooms would be empty, and another 5% would contain only treasure.
But them days are over. Perception(Wis), Search(Int), and Spot(Wis) shot that playstyle all to hell.
UPDATE: An example of how the tobacco room discussed above should be run in my opinion can be found here.