I ran three Living Forgotten Realms games this weekend, a first (and second, and third) for me. It was an interesting experience. My first two games went reasonably well, with players engaged in the story and having a reasonably challenging time with the combat. I'm no tactical genius myself, nor do I wish to be, so I generally rely on the monsters to have an interesting variety of powers to make life hard for the players.
In my third game, things took a turn, and I was taken to school. Everyone was pretty well optimized, and even with the "harder" batch of monsters they carved through them quite handily. One fellow had a brawling fighter. I'm fine with that in theory, even if the monsters can't escape (which these couldn't) because at least the monster can keep attacking the fighter. This guy, though, had some sort of sash that let him maintain the grab even when he wasn't adjacent. Turns out he wasn't playing it exactly right, since he loses some of the abilities of the sash while it's grabbing things, but it was frustrating enough that I called all three of the fights early once the most effective monsters were grabbed.
Another guy had ranger with a mount, a dire wolf. I hate mounts. They play havoc with many of the assumptions of the games, a key one being that the PCs generally don't have mounts (another being that grabbing won't be a common play tactic, so no need to train monsters in Athletics). The bottom line is that I wasn't prepared for it and it frustrated me. Part of the frustration was getting repeatedly corrected on the effects of the unfamiliar rules.
It was also frustrating that I lacked the courage to step back, think, and deal with these problems. Part of the reason for this is that I was feeling like I wanted to take these characters (and their players, to be honest) down a notch or two and so I didn't trust myself to say "No" to them. I would have been completely within my rights to tell the ranger that his mount was unsuitable for the mission they were on, for instance.
I thought about complaining about my problems to the Community boards, but that reminded me of posts I've seen about over-optimized groups. I've given advice to those posts, and I stand by my suggestions, but I found myself unable and unwilling to implement them during this game. For instance, I'm an advocate for adding alternate goals to combat so that the PCs can't focus entirely on destroying the creatures. One such goal is to have an NPC that the monsters want dead and the PCs want alive. In an LFR game it might be hard to add something like this on the fly, but this adventure even provided an NPC that I could use for this purpose and in my haste, frustration, and fatigue, couldn't think of how to go about doing it, though I'm glad to say that the idea did at least occur to me.
I'm willing to DM Living Forgotten Realms again, if the fellow who recruited me is willing (and I think he is). Honestly, I'm not sure I'll be able to do much better against a similar group in the future, except possibly to stick out the fights a little longer (I might have been able to knock over one of them, or kill the ranger's beast companion or mount, if I'd stuck with the second fight), and to end them more graciously. I have a feeling that it might not be according to Hoyle if I were to add to the pre-written encounters hard-to-reach skill challenge that buff the monsters, or other alternate winning conditions, but I'll be on the look-out for any small advantages I can give to my monsters to make the encounter challenging and enjoyable for everyone at the table, not the just the optimizers.