I have been GMing a game for a few months now and all in all it has been a ton of fun. My party has just gotten done closing down a portal to Limbo that was being held open by a death slaad and allowing for a slaadi invasion of a coastal village. Overcoming incredible odds and some needing to face tragic sides to themselves in the form of visions received on the plane of chaos they were victorious. The village was incredibly thankful and there was much revelry and reward. Magic items, riches, and praise were heaped on their saviors.

I tell you that to tell you that I'm not out to bully my players, I am out to tell a rich and satisfying story. The gist of it is that after this Slaad campaign they entered a part of the story that is supposed to ground them a little bit. I'm not taking anything from them or anything like that, but they've encountered some of the higher ups of an enemy army. They are interesting characters with their own motivations that go against a lot of what the party stands for.

More importantly, they are stronger than the PCs. I always keep a continuation of my story open whether the party wins or loses, and they know that, but suddenly they encountered a threat they couldn't defeat just by fighting like they normally do and the players just suddenly got incredibly bored and frustrated.

I'm of the school of thought that Mary Sues are boring and surely the same would apply to characters that can just wave their hands and make problems go away. But instead of thinking of escape or unconventional tactics my players basically just gave up and started robotically going through the motions of wait for turn -> basic attack -> done essentially just waiting to be killed.

The villains were pulled directly from one of their back stories and have been hinted at several times over the course of the campaign, one of the characters even met them and shared a drink before they knew they'd be at each other's throats. There was a story hook and the party was incredibly invested prior to the fight. I even designed the enemies to be sort of a dark reflection of a couple of the characters, including the fact that they only used powers or abilities that were also available to the party.

And yet all that in place and my players spontaneously lost all interest in the story and thought I was being unfair and railroading them into a scripted death even though the only option that was no longer available was beating them in a fair fight.. hell even that could have worked out if the rolls were good. So my question is, how on earth do you write an encounter where the players aren't supposed to come out on top? Because I feel like I've done everything right, but obviously not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your question looks like it might get closed for being too broad. Try taking the tour and seeing if you can scope your question down to something a little more specific. Also, it might help us answer if you can clarify if you and your players have ever talked about your expectations for this game and the playstyle you expect - it does sound like there's possibly a mismatch between the style of game you're running and the expectations of your players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Aug 8, 2018 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly related: How can I make surrender or capture of the party a (more) acceptable outcome to the players? \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Aug 8, 2018 at 12:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the essential question here looks like "How do I bring in antagonists who outpower the PCs without demoralising them?" If that's the case, perhaps you could refocus the question on this problem to avoid the close votes. (And that's a question I'd be interested in seeing a good answer to.) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 8, 2018 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are unsure as to how to pare this down for the Stack, you can join our Role-playing Games Chat once you've got 20 rep and folks who are in there would be happy to help. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 8, 2018 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose "how to tell this kind of story" is a moot question. You already know how would you tell this, but you have issues with the expected outcome. The real question is how to solve these issues. Describe the issues and you will get a question of better quality. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Aug 8, 2018 at 14:36


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