Steve Winter's latest blog post got me thinking about game balance or the lack thereof.
So, question: Should every encounter be balanced to the adventurers who stumbling into it?
NO! says I.
I am a simulation gamer, which is to say, I believe that the game should represent the DM's vision of a fantastic reality and to that end, the game should hold as tight as possible to that vision.
Part of that means that The World is not Fair. Which is to say, The Game is not Balanced.
If you wander into the Trollhaunt Woods at level 1, ghost-trolls will probably rape you to death, eat your flesh, and sew your skin into a tablecloth.
However, the DM's job is to have fun and help everyone else have fun. In my experience, neither goal is accomplished by having a black dragon repeatedly murder everyone.
So, what is a DM to do?
I try and give adventure hooks to my players that lead them toward what I think is probably a level appropriate encounter.
Notice the lack of trying there. Not trying is key. Just do what makes sense, consequences be damned.
As a DM you're no more obligated to keep the party alive than you are to murder them. Ideally, one finds a happy medium.
Throw things at them, let them sort it out. A smart group of players will triumph or flee.
Above all, do what makes sense.