As exciting as this can be at first, it becomes pretty monotonous and certainly isn't the most advanced mode of storytelling. Having very real threats where the players are certain of their doom, or are overconfident in their abilities, but still feel the terror of loss and just squeaking through with survival are the stories your players will remember, not the one where they kill their 200th goblin to shove them over the EXP requirement for the next level. Using Star Wars as an example, the best movie in the series is arguably The Empire Strikes Back. In this movie, we see the characters who were so successful in their previous venture of destroying the Death Star get completely manhandled by Vader and the Empire. For all intents and purposes, Luke failed. Han failed. Leia failed. Lando failed. They live, if you can call being frozen in carbonite living, yes, and a number of them escaped, but they failed. No one important died in that movie, but Luke was certainly brought to the very brink — even throwing himself off of that precipice in Cloud City without knowing if he would survive the fall — while Han is frozen in living death. What does this mean in game terms? They had an encounter they couldn't overcome, so they ran (or were captured).
If a game is simply concerned about generating encounters the characters will be challenged by, but ultimately be able to overcome, it removes all sense of peril in the game. Peril is what drives people, or characters, to action. A real sense of dread or demise will motivate the characters more than loot or murder hoboing. Another example: in the recent episodes of Critical Role, the adventuring party, Vox Machina, encountered a pre-godhood Vecna and lost mightily. Within the first minute of translated game time (6 second rounds, and all that), two of their number were dead and the majority were on their less-than-merry way to meet the Raven Queen. The absolute destruction they faced gave the group a renewed fervor to return the favor to the evil liche and some serious motivation to accomplish miracles they likely didn't initially suspect they were capable of. The loss they encountered taught them hard lessons, but prepared them for the future.
That isn't to say that EVERY encounter must contain a an event where someone will likely die, that's emotionally stressful and isn't fun in its own right. However, there's a definite reluctance to take some stories to what would actually be their ultimate end. As a game master, don't be afraid to make stories that contain very real loss. Force the players to think around these situations through plot; encounters ought to be more than just a drain of resources, it ought stretch the capabilities of the characters. It ought to reveal their weaknesses to shore up their strengths — it's a mental and/or emotional progression. The story is what drives earning experience, not the next lizard man body.
Let us know what your opinion is in the comments section below. Do you agree, disagree, or have a different opinion? We'd love to hear from you!
Next week, we'll talk about how how equal levels within a party really isn't that important and doesn't necessarily break the game.