For the past year and a half, my regular gaming group and I have been playing through Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (RttToEE for short). For those of you unfamiliar with it, just know that it is a humongous (D&D) dungeon.
We are fast approaching the end of RttToEE and I have agreed to take over as GM after the adventure is finished. By that time, the characters will all be at least 12th level, and one of them may be as high as 14th.
We had a couple of adventures to get us up to the starting level for RttToEE, but for the majority of the campaign, we have been in this one locale (the dungeon). Our party has gone to one of the two neighboring towns to rest and resupply a half dozen times since we first went into the dungeon. In the larger of the two towns (a city, really), we are well-known by the temple of Pelor (a sun god) and by the magic guild (we've bought and sold enough items there), and to a lesser degree by the temple of Heironeous (a god of valor). I'm sure that just from our frequenting certain taverns and inns, as well as other mundane equipment shopping, a fair number of people may be familiar with the characters, but not to the extent that characters of this level should be known. The fact that we've taken great care not to advertise, for fear of agents of the temple murdering us in our sleep, has not helped the fame factor either.
So now I am faced with running a campaign with high-level characters that have virtually no fame or experience with the world outside of a very small area. It's almost like I am running a game for beginning characters, only they are (mechanics-wise) a LOT more powerful than beginning characters. They are big fish in a small pond.
Therein lies my quandry.
Does anyone have any advice for how to challenge these characters? I've already thought of putting them in situations that they cannot solve simply by hacking or blasting (politics, investigations, etc.). Two of the players have expressed interest in becoming leaders of men (or orcs, in the case of the half-orc barbarian), so there is definitely potential for a war story as well. The one thing I want to avoid at all costs is just doing more of the same--throwing more and more poweful monsters and NPCs at them to slaughter. I think I speak for the entire group when I say that we never, ever want to see the inside of a dungeon again. =)
Any advice would be much appreciated.