Happy 2012! Wow, the last few days flew by. At ze Bulette's recommendation I finally took the plunge and bought Minecraft. I'm just about to go back down in the mine but I had a thought.
One of the places that's difficult for me in DMing is a room full of junk, because, invariably, through tone of voice or body language I tip off whether there is something valuable to search for or not. And when players find something, whether that was it or that they should keep searching. I wish that was more of a player choice.
How about listing all the items in a room on index or business size cards and when players say they want to search the room you flop them all on the table. So, not grab bag in the sense of players inputing creatively like with the treasure post, but in the sense of physical items they can paw through in real time.
Who is busy searching when you roll that wandering monster encounter? Well, the players actually physically looking at the cards. How long does it take them to search? Maybe a turn per card. That way you know this room stuffed with junk like Tut's tomb, with each item on a separate card, will take hours to search. This, still-used storeroom with things organized on shelves has each shelf on a card, 2 turns.
Or I suppose you could time players in real time. You might put several layers of information on a card-- say , the front just says small cask, but the back says weight in stone, smells sticky and sweet, estimated price if it's unfouled honey, etc. Players can quickly glance at the fronts to see if anything interests them. To turn a card over will coast another half a turn or so of search time.