You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.”
Great drama is at the core of the Gaming Experience. The character’s can’t be fighting the destruction of the world every session (though that can be fun), but there is great fulfilment in the climatic scenes of a campaign or long term adventure. Every climax is not seen in terms of violence (though it is very common). The personal stories of PC’s and NPC’s should also have meaningful expression in adventure climaxes. Yet all Climaxes in a campaign have similarities.
World Packs are the ONLY WAY TO GO!
When running a new party, get around the question of plot density by having the first discovery to be a deck of fate, or whatever you call it. If you use a real deck, you should definitely stack it to have the desired outcome, which is to curse the party to attract weird things to happen and involve them. This should not be told to the players at the time, so that they won't just up and try to get themselves 'decursed'. Though quite why they would want to is beyond me.