For example, just recently gave my PC's an encounter in a dungeon setting. I had four 3rd-level characters (A fighter, a barbarian, a rogue, and a ranger admittedly with a beast companion) against two carrion crawlers (a classic and a favorite).
According to the DMG, my party's "XP threshold" for encounters is:
- Easy: 300
- Medium: 600
- Hard: 900
- Deadly: 1600
My two Carrion Crawlers are CR2, or 450xp each. Since there are two of them, the DMG marks them as being 1.5x more difficult of an encounter. So they're end XP value is 1350. Surpassing the "hard" threshold and into "deadly" territory.
As the DMG states, this list is balanced around the idea of four PCs.
My players relied on very few tactics (only the rogue really tried to "fire and maneuver"), and it sort of became a slugfest going back and forth. However, even with the Crawlers multiattack and poison (which most of the PCs saved against anyway), the encounter only really felt like a "medium" encounter, which is described as "one or two scary moments for the players, but the characters should emerge victorious with no casualties. One or more of them might need to use healing resources". Indeed, I didn't feel a sense of terror until one crawler ended up paralyzing and grappling the beast companion, trying to crawl away with it (it was the closest and smallest target).
In short, using 5e's encounter creation guidelines just feels like it results in some rather moderate encounters, even up to "deadly" levels! I feel like I'm missing something, or maybe I'm just playing these monsters/NPCs badly.
I know 5e is centered more around storytelling and narrative gameplay, but my players and I also appreciate challenging encounters. My current plan is to introduce more environmental/terrain challenges to encounters to keep them interesting.
I suppose my question is, is there something I'm doing wrong? Are 5e encounters just supposed to be easier? Are PCs really that much more powerful than in 2e, or 3.5? Am I missing the point?