More vague notes about rogulikes; this time about monster difficulty or Power Curve.
In I Rule, You Rule, We All Rule Old-School Hyrule there are two ways that creatures become deadlier over time: natural selection and big monsters. By natural selection I mean that every time something dies, a new random creature (monster or goblin) is born. This means that if you killed a bunch of Mountain Monsters there would be fewer of them and slightly more of everything else. If you avoided a certain type then there would be more of them since you're killing fewer of them. Subtle - but given enough time it would probably make a difference. Of course what new creature get's spawned is chosen at random so you can't have extinctions but you don't get a runaway top predator either. This also means that you're never safe or bored because the world is always crowded. The second way is that each new monster had a small chance to be a "big monster" with extra health and a few other perks. The chance of being born a big monster increases each time a new monster was created. If you played long enough, all monsters would be born big.
Both of these were affected by the fact that creatures who bump into each other attack each other. Imagine a region with two types of monsters: one type who always attack their neighbors and do extra damage, and another type that are pacifists. Over time the aggressive ones would dominate. If the passive creatures had spikes and heavy armor then the aggressive ones might end up impaling themselves into being the smaller population though. Likewise, if everything was killing everything else then you would soon see big monsters whereas a pacifist world would take much longer before they appeared.
I'm happy with those but there were a few other ideas that didn't make it into the game.
Goblins are scattered around and use a random weapon but my original idea was that they would belong to local clans that learn over time. If a clan found that spears did more damage than swords then new goblins to that clan would be more likely to start with spears. If light armor was better than heavy armor then they would tend to use that. This way each clan could have preferences based on their local monsters and they would tend to use weapons and armors that foil the player the most effectively. Also if something sucked then no one would use it.
The rivals are also a growing threat that could have been much better. They seek out hearts and heart containers so they tend to be healthy and gain hearts over time. This also means there's fewer power ups lying around for the player to pick up too. They don't use their items' special abilities though and can't pick up better items either. I tried to avoid having things be clearly better or worse but there are some exceptions. Spike Armor is clearly better than Heavy Armor but your rivals will just ignore it if they find it. They also don't learn. They're hard coded to fear some monster traits more than others - like poison, spiked, and double attack - but maybe there are traits they should fear more? Or ones that should be attracted to instead of afraid of? One rival feature that I'm proud of is that they don't know more about monster traits than you. They see the same monster description that you do. This means that monsters with the Mysterious trait (the ones that don't show what traits they have) are a complete mystery to them. If a player were to bump into a mysterious monster and get a notice that it's spiked, they would probably stop hitting it. Rivals don't learn though. Rivals that did learn would be a growing challenge.
Since the player can go anywhere in the overworld and I don't know which random monsters will be available, I can't fine tune stats and placement and difficulty ramps and experience tables the same way that most designers can. Instead I have to fine tune the rules and mechanics of how things tend to progress over time. Here's a game mechanic view of how iryrwarosh handles making opponents stronger over time.
A creature born for every creature lost. A slow positive feedback loop where things that are hard to kill tend to dominate in the long run. On the other hand, it could be exploited to make the world safer by only exterminating the most dangerous things. (like modern real life: few lions but lots of chickens)
Big monsters that become more common over time. A timer based positive feedback loop that can only be slowed by pacifism. On the other hand, a world with big monsters has more chances for fame so the game would end sooner.
Clans that adapt to use what is most effective in their daily encounters. It would have been a local positive feedback loop that would lead to clans optimized for what they've encountered. On the other hand, if their environment changes or the player's tactics change, they could fare poorly until they've had enough time to adjust. (again like our life - changing climate and changing politics have affected groups of people all the way back since when northern Africa was a lush forest)
Smarter rivals that intelligently use what they find. I think to truly be useful they would need to keep data from past games or play very cautiously until they understand what to fear and what to attack. It would be really cool though. I was only able to put a few hours into the AI for my 7DRL but my next roguelike will have more intellegent rivals that increase in difficulty over time.