|Derek Vande Brake|
Hello! I have been a GM off and on for years but my current game is actually my longest stretch at it. I don't consider myself a bad GM - and my players seem to be having fun - but there is always room for improvement.
I have a busy job so I can't always spend a ton of time on game planning, but the group and I have invested a significant amount of time and effort in a custom campaign with elaborate back plots that I don't want to drop. I'm not terrible at making up encounters and fights on the fly (apparently, one - a shipboard fight on a mist-shrouded sea with scrags in the water like sharks - had some of my players talking about it the whole drive home. But one thing I always seem to forget is adding treasure later to make up for the less than ideal looting situations, which leaves my party a bit short on items.
Another issue is encounter balance. I have given them fights which go way over their CR and yet are too easy; I have also done fights which should be tough but doable and yet severely messed them up. For example: a dozen zombies should be a CR 6 encounter, which should be a pretty epic fight for an APL 3 party. Yet the players just about always hit the zombies, the zombies just about always miss the party, and so the fight takes a bit longer but still doesn't really trip the party up. A later similar fight against many more zombies was the same. On the other hand, a single Penanggalen using the stats right out of Bestiary 3 would have been about the same CR. (I added 1 because they were fighting it at night - and had no option of doing so during the day.) Yet here, even when I didn't have it using most spells and spell like abilities that it possessed (I think it only cast Obscuring Mist early on and used only physical abilities after that), I had to handwave things to avoid a TPK. To be fair, they had made some mistakes of their own - like failing to buy silver weapons even after making the knowledge check to know what they were dealing with - but often even hitting the thing was an issue.
So I guess what I'm looking for is a) any tips on organization that will help me keep track of wealth - or everything else - better so I can reward my party appropriately without them waiting forever between treasures and b) suggestions on encounter design that will help me keep things balanced when the CR system fails.
I appreciate any help on this!