So what do you do when the party starts to get too tough? The Denver Pathfinder game came at just the right time for me. Because the last time we played, while I did eventually make it tough, the boys were more than up for the task. But that Denver game taught me some lessons, that I am ready to implement.
So your strategy of a DM of letting the PC’s get powerful feels like it is backfiring on you. Sure it is fun for the characters to one shot your big bad guy. Or get through a supposedly tough encounter pretty much untouched. That might be fun for the players the first time or two, but it does get boring, and frustrating. Role playing is about fun, not seeing who can roll the best dice numbers.
But I learned 2 things this week from my game in Denver that I hope will make future games I run better. First, while it seems like it would make sense to answer tough characters with ever tougher opponents the reality is that is a method with diminishing returns. Because the 3-4 tough characters will almost always overwhelm that single big bad guy. Just by sheer numbers if nothing else. No, the answer is numbers, big groups that take down the players by the death of a thousand cuts. Force that mage to use up some spells before you roll out the leader.
Second, when possible roll group rolls for the bad guys rather than trying to roll for every single zombie. No reason to roll every single save at a time. Applying these 2 things in sequence should give the boys more of a challenge, without bogging down every combat.
Originally I had a plan for the next sequence with the boys. There would have been some big battle scenes, some betrayal, some diplomacy. And I would have spent a session just torturing one of the players. But I began to reconsider that this week. I decided that I will instead allow them to complete their current quest, but redirect them from what they expected to end that quest. And instead open things up to them a little. Give them a map, tell them in general what types of things they would encounter, and ask them where they want to go.
I was going to send them back to their original campaign world, but decided against that. I think it will be more interesting to me to keep them in what is effectively my own campaign setting (with bits and pieces stolen from the L5R world, and other sources.) I will give them some choices on what type of adventure they want each week, but in general they will be in this different setting. I know I will be more interested in running them in a new world than where they were to start. And so long as I keep it fun, let the go out and slaughter stuff, and get treasure, chances are they will have fun. And I can always keep the carrot of returning to their home land in my back pocket.