Why Bushwhacking Your Players Is a Bad Idea

In his latest blog entry, Spiderweb Software's Jeff Vogel talks about a few of the absurdly difficult encounters he placed in Avernum 6 and why he's since went back to patch some of them out.
I have long thought it was cool to, in any given area in a game, place one encounter that was far harder than the stuff around it. It would be some special named or boss with tougher abilities and better loot. These little nuggets of toughness were always optional and always had special text warning the player that there was a really nasty foe here.

The basic idea behind this was that it gave the player a challenge. A place to stretch his or her abilities. Something to come back and try later to test your strength and see how much power you have gained. Sure, it'll slaughter you the first couple of times you run across it, but it will give you the motivation to work harder and prevail! It's a hardcore gamer way of thinking. This sort of thing is something I think is neat and has a place, if you're very, very careful about it.

But in Avernum 6, I went way, WAY too far with this. There were way too many encounters that were rough and meant to be returned to later. I actually had one bandit dungeon where the boss was super-tough. "Ah," I thought, in a moment of exhaustion and idiocy. "This will be cool. The player will kill the early bandits, get some lewt, and then see that the final boss is an entirely different sort of character and back off and come back later."

How sadistic and stupid is that? To let the player fight through a dungeon and not give the satisfaction of finishing it off. To add one more item to an ever-increasing list of things to remember to return to. To doom most players to several attempts to kill the boss and getting slaughtered before they figure out that they have to return later, wasting their time and goodwill.
Personally, I'd rather spend an hour or two trying to figure out how to drop a bandit leader many levels above me than simply jumping from dungeon to dungeon running over everything in my path. Challenges - even overly difficult challenges - are a good thing if they're done right and made optional when appropriate.