|1 person marked this as a favorite.|
a few thoughts - echoing a few others.
1) if combats as currently being run as "too easy" for your party - vary them up a bit - give them a stretch without combat (exploration, role playing, something to get them engaged). If that doesn't work then look at varying the environments and at making them think a bit about their tactics and approaches. This can be as simple as an environment where there are bystanders they have to keep alive (prisoners, other people in a tavern/street - pick something appropriate to your environment but show them that there are people other than enemies and the party
2) look at what your party does (play styles, character classes/types) and consider encounters that let a different set of people than usual shine for a given battle. If the party melee types are always dominant perhaps have an encounter with some flying (or swimming) enemies - this becomes a different tactical battle - and requires ranged play or tactics such as readying actions. Don't however be punitive here - water can quickly kill unprepared lower level characters (and flying enemies if no one has ranged weapons is also frustrating at any level of play)
[side note - years ago in a different system one of my proudest moments as a DM was getting a player who played a Paladin to choose running away and perhaps needing to atone when he realized that fighting a dragon, in the dragon's lair, where the dragon was able to fly and perch on top of walls that were higher up than the paladin could easily see - but just high enough that the dragon could still breath down and get everyone in the room wasn't a battle he was going to win - and the party ran away w/o any casualties but with a lesson about perhaps not trying more than they could actually achieve at that time. The rest of that dungeon was a related set of lessons - lots of encounters where they had non-combat means of resolving them - if they spoke with the monsters instead of attacking first]
Along those lines I think it is often good to introduce "enemies" who aren't necessarily clear cut "evil" - put the PC's in the middle of two groups who are in a conflict but where there are no clear good (or bad) guys just real differences of opinion and perhaps even fighting and see what the PC's do. Give them non-combat means of resolving encounters - or real consequences if they do engage in battle (one side may start to see them as allies, the other as enemies). This can even work if some of the party are focused on fighting "evil" (i.e. Paladins etc) but in that case don't go too overboard as it might seem punitive to that player if EVERY enemy is N. But a bunch of encounters with N (or even CN) or other non-evil enemies can help teach a party to look at a multitude of ways to resolve combat.
Another similar approach is to give them enemies who use means other than lethal force to attack the party (traps are one option but a non-lethal specialist is another, or a spell caster who focuses on illusions and transmutations). Start getting them to question their reality a bit and to see an approach that is less than lethal but still effective. This has the other side benefit of letting you have an NPC who may "win" against the party without it being a TPK - and without requiring a lot of DM fiat or hand waving to avoid that TPK - knock out the whole party and get them captured etc.
One other thing to keep in mind is that SOLO monsters even at APL+4 above the party are at a real action economy disadvantage to a determined party. So add some minions or others to some encounters to help minimize that. I also find that starting encounters a bit father away often turns encounters which are "easy" into ones that take real skill and push a party - give the NPC's some time to buff and encounters get far more complex. Combine a few encounters in a row and an "easy" module turns challenging very quickly (in many dungeons pay attention to what is in nearby rooms - sounds of battle should have a chance to pull in others to the fray. I also find that in dungeons if the party keeps pressing forward that it can help to stay in initiative order (players may like this as buffs etc stick around a longer) but it also can mean that an unwary party may trigger multiple encounters at once w/o rests in-between to do out of combat healing. Don't abuse this but keep it as an option.