Am I being too hard/unfair?

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Now my players haven't complained about our last few session, but I wanted to make sure that I'm not being a jerk to them. I always plan for multiple ways for them to succeed or get passed obstacles. And if they ever come up with something more innovative than "I use diplomacy against the lock" I usually say that it works. The party is 4 members lvl 7, missing their leader for the past 2. The party for these two sessions were an Eladrin Warlock, Elf Warlock, Minotaur Fighter, and Elf Rogue.

Possible Jerk moment number one:
So two sessions ago they are on their way to investigate a wind temple. They climbed up the side of a mountain to get there. On their way up they discovered a tunnel, but overlooked it to get higher on the mountain(it was actually a secret entrance to the temple bypassing the fog elemental). When they got to the temple they discovered it was surrounded by a giant fog cloud. They did not know that the wind temple is protected by a Fog Elemental.

The fog elemental was given two different abilities:

  • If someone walked into it without stopping they would find that they walk out a few feet away from the place they entered.

  • If someone walked in and stopped they would be pushed out.

Now I had a bunch of ideas for them to get passed:

  • Talk to the elemental(One of the players can speak Primordial)

  • Use an artifact that they have in their inventor(they have two that I would allow)

  • Attack the fog

  • Try to dispell the fog in some way.

Instead one of the players got pissed off and threw another player into it, who happened to have an artifact on him. So I had him go through unharmed just to save time. Which lead one player to call him backhandedly the chosen one.

Possible Jerk Moment number 2:
Note: Encounter budget was at ~1200 which was at what the book recommends for an average encounter.

The players are on top of the temple, two enemies, a guardian and a templar performing a binding ritual on an elemental spirit, they know what she is planning. I warn the players that the chanting is nearing its completion. Game mechanics wise about 3 turns until completion, which would grant her more power. The templar gets struck by a lightning attack but I roll a save die to see if she stops chanting, she continues to do so unhindered. With this monster type(Eladrin Windwalker) if they don't attack they turn invisible and are considered phasing. As part of a defense she summons four eldarin mirages(lvl8 minions) through a spell shard as a distraction while she completes the ritual.

The Mirages all look like her but she is safely hidden while the mirages fight, note if the players rolled a perception check or asked which one was chanting they would notice that none of their mouths are moving. Players push the guardian off the tower, almost killing him(10d10 damage from fall left him with 15 HP), he was doing 4d6 damage to them(lvl8 Brute Mul).

Now here is where I think I might have been a complete jerk. If they had rolled a perception check, or if they used another artifact in their inventory  they would have figured out where she was. However, they chose to ignore her for the most part and she turns into a giant air elemental. Maybe I should have said 5 turns instead of 3 to complete the ritual or changed the Guardian to two lower level NPCs.]

What do you guys think? Was I being too unfair, or too hard on them? In either case. 

Ant Farm
I don't think you were too hard on them in either case.

In the first case, I presume they were then able to get through once the thrown character was able to get through. Were they getting frustrated? I did something similar to my players and they were getting frustrated and not getting what I thought were obvious clues, so I had to out-and-out tell them what they were missing, just to move things along. In any case, they got through, so I think you were more than fair.

I think you were fair in the second case too. They got some good licks in on the enemies. Whether it was killed or not, the guardian sounds like it was out of the fight. Did they survive after the eladrin turned into an air elemental? What did they need to do to stop the ritual? Would it have been trivial if they'd just made different choices.

I have to ask myself this too. This weekend, I put a level 14 party up against 2 assassin vines. The vines are very mobile and the PCs' movement was limited, and the vines hit easily and hard with nasty effects. I wasn't aiming to kill them, just hinder them, and they were barely able to even bloody one vine. This is the third week in a row in which they've achieved only a partial victory, and I'm beginning to wonder if I need to throttle back.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

One thing that I'd flag in those descriptions is the repeated instances of, "They could have solved this if they'd used the right artifact in their inventory!"

It sounds like you might be relying a little too much on this concept. It works for some types of games (use Inventory item X to bypass obstacle Y), but D&D isn't one of them.
In both cases I don't think you were too harsh. Some solutions are better than others. It's a fact of life, and of DnD. They could have done things differently but they didn't. Part of the game is that sometimes you fail. The only suggestion I have is if you decide to tell them what they could have done for things to go more smoothly, be nice about it. In the past I've had DMs point what the group did wrong during a puzzle or encounter and it did not always come off as constructive criticism. With one DM in particular, he would always laugh as he criticized us and not in a "laughing with you" sort of way.

I saw your post over on GiantITP about the incident with the Fog Elemental, and wanted to add that you shouldn't worry too much about the wizard's (one who threw the other PC into the fog) comments. Some people just don't come off as being sarcastic when they mean to be. It might be worth making sure they know why the player with the artifact got through, assuming they already know what the artifact is.
First Case : definitely far too easy on them.
If they are getting frustrated by puzzles / lack of progress, you can have the Fog Elemental attack them first.
Turning a puzzle into a combat is an almost surefire way to reduce the amount of boredom.
Don't rely on Players figuring a way out. Even a party of ingenius players have good and bad days.
eg. A Skill Challenge is going nowhere, FAST. Say it involves getting past a locked door.
Have an alarm goes off, a bunch of Guards come over and beat on the Players.
One of them has the key. Done Deal.

Generally, to get past the frustrating with the blindingly obvious, it should be something that you can just mention to them across the table, like "Do remember that there's a door leading inside" or "Please note that this is a port-city and there are probably ships that can sail across the sea." or "As mentioned earlier, there's a cave entrance in the mountainside.", don't count on it to move things forward when Players are getting frustrated.

Second Case :"Game mechanics wise about 3 turns until completion" - if the Players did not know this, you could have extended it slightly.

However, in this case I think the fight was fairly balanced, especially since they only needed to hit her to get a chance to disrupt the Ritual.
You can add clues like "You hear disembodied words being chanted from the air around you as you fight."
The Minions are not overly powerful, in fact in 2 rounds they should have been done with the battle, especially since they pushed the Guardian (Elite) into a 100' plunge. That's an Encounter for 3 characters and they were fielding 4.

In any case, I assume the Giant Air Elemental wasn't too strong as it wasn't a TPK. Given that as well, you're not harsh at all.
In fact a little lenient - I would probably have let the GAE tear a few Heroes down and then leave to terrorise whatever faction / people they were trying to serve, thus affect their reward and reputation. Alternatively, simply really nasty buffs and attacks after being Bloodied.

What might be unfair is IF they spotted her and simply couldn't hit her (and disrupt) because she was invisible, giving them a -5 to Hit. You could provide her to be blurred (Partial Concealment) after one party member notices her.

That was what my DM gave us when we were a Level 12 party of 4 going into a fight with TWO Solos ( we didn't know it was 2 Solos )
One of them was an invisible Demon and had At Will Dominate (Save Ends). When Bloodied he can do it Twice per Turn. It targets Will and both our 1 Defender and 1 Striker in the party has low Will. He always went for one, then the other, and only targeted the rest when the other two were already Dominated.
The other was a Dragon with standard Dragon attacks, and could perform 4 Attacks (3 Claws,1 Bite that deals ongoing 5) as a single Standard Action.
Before the fight started, he dropped us an unavoidable trap that all reduced our HP by... hmm.. 48 or so? We were all bloodied before the Dragon appeared.
Fortunately, at least once we managed to detect the Demon, he was considered Partially Concealed instead of Fully Concealed.
One of the most memorable Encounters for me, EVER
Perhaps a little Harsh, but hugely Memorable. And yes, that's what makes the game for me, and might make the game for your Players!

I am Blue/White

One thing that I'd flag in those descriptions is the repeated instances of, "They could have solved this if they'd used the right artifact in their inventory!" It sounds like you might be relying a little too much on this concept. It works for some types of games (use Inventory item X to bypass obstacle Y), but D&D isn't one of them.

I have to disagree.  I think its a great idea if done well; its no different than a lock and a key.  However, there should be other ways of getting past the lock; thus we have a knock ritual and the thievery skill.  

However, using an artifact to get past a barrier is slightly different than a key, in they we know keys unlock locks based on their appearance.  Players should be able to identify (with the proper knowledge check) that an artifact is used as a key.  This is menial knowledge anyway, so its not like knowing this will break the game.  In fact, all it does is allow the players to reach their goal sooner than later, and its not even guaranteed.

Not too harsh, since failing to use the solutions you had though of beforehand didn't turn into a gigantic disaster.

Depending on the group, players might not come up with 'easy' ways to defeat obstacles that you do. In these groups you might want to give hints such as 'The mist looks magical.. an Arcana check might reveal more' and then proceed to give additional clues. Or that 'Your backpack glows blue suddenly' as a hint that an item in their possession might do something.
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