I finally did it. I found something my group of PCs couldn't just roll over in a fight. The problem is, I'm not sure that I actually wanted the PCs to lose just there. At least, maybe not that badly?
The game's not over, and I don't regret the setup or the stats of the NPCs that finally bested these PCs. However, I do have to acknowledge that for the first time I actually did over-tune the threat from the enemies. But there is opportunity in that, and as my game goes forward I intend to use it; in both the short term and the long.
The game in question is Star Wars using the new Fantasy Flight Games system. My PCs have been going at it a while, and they're each sitting on at least 1k XP. To put that in perspective, they're individually mechanically stronger than many of the Adversary builds in the books, and those adversaries are designed to 1v4-6 parties in a lot of cases.
In game, the PCs are a man down as one PC couldn't make it to session. They also know they've got a crack team of hunters after them - them specifically due to their previous exploits. The setup led to a fight, and at the end of the fight 3/5 PCs were down and the last 2 surrendered. No one is dead. The mission was capture not kill - and that's partly why 3/5 of people went down so fast. They got hit in their strain pools, and hard. That survival is partly why the last 2 surrendered.
So where is the opportunity?
The PC who missed session - due to their decision of where there character would be while not at session - is now also a guest of the Galactic Empire. So, on the short term my Over-tuned fight lets me have all the PCs together next session and makes preparation a lot easier to do. Instead of having to have the PCs deal with being hunted, AND save their friend, AND escape the Galactic Empire and jail, they can just escape the jail/empire/planet. That makes my prep a lot easier. It makes getting people together a lot easier. And it lets me set up scenarios to both challenge and showcase my PCs with a lot more ease.
Long Term this does a couple things. One, this group of hunters just took down the PCs. I switched to groups because "a big bad + minions" literally wasn't cutting it, but this group presents 2 things for me. 1) it gives the PCs a goal, something to aspire to and faces to beat and show their growth against. 2) it gives me back the lever of establishing a threat as a "holy crap" threat by having it casually take out these people.
Everyone knows Vader is terrifying. However, having Vader casually take out the group of 5 that just dropped the PCs fairly casually makes it all the more real for the PCs, and really showcases just how much gap there could be (just to give an example.
There is also the possibility for growing relationships with these characters. Having bested the PCs, they can't just be one offs. That means more stories, perhaps as allies and perhaps as enemies.
In The End
I made a mistake. Not a huge one. Not a deal breaker. But I definitely misjudged my threat assessment for the fight. However, there is still opportunity in that. Part of the reason for that is because I left myself room for growth beyond a PC fail scenario. Part of it is because simple luck makes it easy to work with. Either way, it works because I keep my eyes open for where the game can go.