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When the PCs come across say, an abandoned room that is full of items they don't really care about, but they are looking for something in particular, what skill makes the most sense?

Appraise says it is used to find the most valuable item in a treasure hoard, but this particular item may not be the most valuable.

I was thinking perception would make the most sense but I guess I'm getting a bit confused with what to use when looking for a specific item.

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

Perception is the skill to use here

Your senses allow you to notice fine details and alert you to danger. Perception covers all five senses, including sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. [...] Perception is also used to notice fine details in the environment.

Your players are using their senses to find something not unlike a hidden door (albeit probably smaller) in this case.

On Appraise

As you say, appraise has the function

to determine the most valuable item visible in a treasure hoard.

Emphasis mine. Appraise has nothing to do with actually finding something that is hidden. This skill use means the character is just glancing over each and every single visible item in the hoard (which is not hidden at all), and roughly estimating its value.

I personally would ask for perception checks as well in case the most valuable object is hidden inside the hoard (such as a particularly large gemstone in a heap of jewelry, which is still relatively small).

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I like your idea regarding the use of perception to find a hard to find item in a hoard as well. I'm still having some issues with certain skills and appraise is one of those that hasn't fully clicked with me yet so thanks for the help! – Nerevar Apr 23 '14 at 12:13
+1 3.5e's Search skill was deliberately collapsed into Perception in Pathfinder. – mxyzplk Apr 23 '14 at 12:55

I agree with what MrLemon said about Perception being the skill to use for searching in general, and in situations where the players know what they're looking for and what it looks like.

I would add that if the item is of a particular origin, a relevant knowledge skill could work. Perhaps the characters sense the arcane emanations from a powerful magic orb or they recognize the historic shield used by a famous fighter?

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+1 Very nice idea with the knowledge checks. Perhaps you can use them to gain favourable conditions (+2 on the perception check). Knowledge(nobility) for the signet ring of Olav III., knowledge(arcana/religion) for the magical MacGuffin, even knowledge(nature) for the brooch resembling a kingsblood-oak leaf. – MrLemon Apr 23 '14 at 14:34

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