Old School RuneScape – History, Gameplay, and Lore Guide

Though it’s difficult to believe it today, Old School RuneScape (OSRS) was once seen as an unsure concept. The question of its creation was presented to players in a poll on February 15, 2013, with the number of votes determining its pricing and support from RuneScape’s developers, Jagex.

According to then Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard, the idea was inspired by the forum posts of players longing for the “golden days” of RuneScape, determined to be 2006–2007. After searching through old backups, the development team found a version from August 2007 and restored it to a playable state.

For RuneScape 3’s declining player base, it was an opportunity not just to relive nostalgia, but return to a version of the game they considered superior. Over the course of two weeks, the poll received 449,531 votes. This was shy of the 500,000 target for it to be included for no extra cost for current members.

Seeing the passion from the community, however, the Jagex team decided to ignore the over 50,000 vote deficit and release it to members free of charge. It also implemented some goals from the higher tiers, such as anti-bot technology. By February 22nd, 2013, Old School RuneScape was available to all paying players on Windows and macOS. It was an immediate success.

Today, Old School RuneScape is the most popular version of the game and has had many improvements determined by player polls. Notably, it brought back a universal trading platform known as the Grand Exchange, added support for Android and iOS, and received numerous quests and new items.

Today, I’m going to dive into the gameplay and history of this historic MMO as it stands today.

Gameplay

Old School RuneScape is an open-world Sandbox MMO with no clearly defined path for players to follow. Players are encouraged to leverage its simple, mouse-based interaction and polygonal graphics to create their own goals and communities. With thousands of activities, 23 skills to level, and a vibrant, player-driven economy, it’s among the most diverse and popular massively multiplayer games on the market.

What can you do in Old School RuneScape?

The gameplay elements of OSRS can largely be broken down into five categories. Though there are certain activities outside of this, such as exploration and socializing, most players spend their time with a mix of the following:

Questing

Old School RuneScape has a total of 119 quests, each with their own storyline and requirements. Completing every quest is a large undertaking that requires skills and expertise in a range of areas. As of February 2020, 61,766 players had completed every quest in the game.

PvE

With over a thousand monsters and more than a hundred bosses, Player versus Everything (PvE) combat is a popular activity in OSRS. Though Old School RuneScape can be enjoyed without killing a single monster, PvE combat is a necessary part of some skills, quests, and mini-games.

PvP

Despite the simplicity of Old School RuneScape’s combat system, it’s surprisingly hard to master. Players primarily fight one another in a northern area of the map known as the wilderness, a dangerous place that holds some unique items and rewards. However, they can also bet on duels in the Duel Arena and take part in minigames like Castle Wars, Bounty Hunter, and TzHaar Fight Pit.

Some players are so dedicated to Player Killing (a.k.a PKing) that they create “pures” specifically designed to deal the most damage at the lowest combat level possible.

Skilling

“Skilling” in Old School RuneScape refers to the act of purposefully leveling any of the game’s 26 skills. Experience in each skill can be gained by simply performing an activity that is related to it. To train woodcutting, for example, players may cut down trees, unlocking additional types of wood as they level that grant more experience.

The maximum official level for a skill is 99, but players can continue to earn experience after this milestone for additional “virtual levels” that cap out at 200,000,000 experience points (XP). Players dedicated to reaching these targets are known as “skillers”, and often avoid activities such as PvP.

Money-making

The sheer number of ways to make money in Old School RuneScape is enough for it to be considered a gameplay element in its own right. Indeed, many players have sunk hours into discovering the most efficient monkey-making methods to fund the resources to train skills such as Construction, Prayer, Fletching, and Firemaking, which are rarely profitable.

As well as collecting resources or items to sell on the Grand Exchange, RuneScape players can play the market itself, buying items for a low price and selling them high. Some players also sell their services, delivering items to players or performing other tasks, while others stake gold on a duel arena fight or kill others in the wilderness for cash.

OSRS vs RS3: What are the main differences?

RuneScape 3 has received a litany of updates between the 2007 build OSRS is based on and today. The hundreds of patches, changes, and improvements are impossible to summarize here, but the main areas in which they differ are combat, graphics, skills, and population:

Graphics

The most immediately noticeable difference between Old School Runescape and RuneScape 3 is the graphical style. OSRS has a low-polygon look with minimal textures and no modern lighting techniques. Aside from support for modern aspect ratios and other quality of life features, it still looks essentially the same as it did in 2007.

RuneScape 3, meanwhile, has a modern, C++-based client that allows it to take advantage of many modern graphical techniques. Though still clearly not on par with most new AAA titles, it does implement features such as high-resolution textures and models, ambient occlusion, soft shadows, and a dramatically increased draw distance. All of this adds up to a graphical experience that is clearly superior, though arguably not as charming, as Old School RuneScape.

Combat

Old School RuneScape uses the classic style of RuneScape combat which is largely point and click-based. Despite being relatively simple, the combat system has a high skill ceiling, with players at the top level needing to quickly manage active prayers, their health, different damage types, and more.

RuneScape 3 primarily uses the changes introduced with the Evolution of Combat (EoC) update, which introduced an action bar-based combat system similar to titles like World of Warcraft. It’s worth noting, however, that RS3 allows players to turn this off and go back to a form of classic combat if they wish.

Skills

Old School RuneScape has fewer skills when compared to RuneScape 3, with a total of 26 rather than 29. On the one hand, skills like Divination and Invention can breathe new life into the game, but on the other, they can complicate it further.

Beyond that, the way skills are trained can differ significantly between the two game versions. Generally, it takes longer to level a skill in OSRS due to lower experience rates, lack of experience boosts and buffs, and the requirement of more manual input. Some will view this as a negative, while others will believe it feels more rewarding.

Population

Old School RuneScape overtook RuneScape 3 in player count in 2016 and has remained there since. Though population can vary significantly from month to month, OSRS’ active users are often double that of RS3.

This can be seen as a good or bad thing – on the one hand, higher player counts often lead to more competition for resources, especially on free-to-play worlds. On the other, it can mean a more vibrant community and an easier time finding a group that works for you.

OSRS Ironman, Deadman, and Leagues

As well as Old School RuneScape’s typical gameplay, players can choose between additional three modes: Ironman, Deadman, and Leagues.

Ironman

Ironman is a more “hardcore” version of RuneScape that was introduced in 2014. When a player creates an Ironman account, they’re forced to be almost entirely self-sufficient. Forms of interaction such as trading, the Grand Exchange, PvP, minigames, and other activities are blocked or restricted. As a result, they must gather the materials for and craft, armor, weapons, potions, and anything else they may need throughout the game. Ironmen play on the same server as regular players but are unable to interact with them beyond the in-game chat.

Deadman

Deadman mode, meanwhile, is hosted on a separate server with an open PvP world with a few safe zones. Players benefit from 20x more experience in the first thirty minutes of gameplay, 10x during the first six hours, and 5x thereafter. Upon killing another player, users receive blood money, which they can use to purchase Deadman armor, which can be reclaimed for free on death.

Leagues

Old School RuneScape Leagues are limited-time, seasonal events that involve completing tasks on servers with modified game rules. Aside from restrictions on trade or areas, these servers can have boosted experience, and typically reward players with a choice of powerful buffs when they complete a task. There have been two leagues so far, with the first starting in November 2019. Leagues typically begin in the fall and end in January of the following year. Though progress from Leagues doesn’t carry over to the main game, players can purchase cosmetics with in-game currency that will.

Membership

Gameplay in Old School RuneScape is significantly affected by whether you have a membership. Even so, one of the great things about OSRS is that you have thousands of hours of content available to you as a non-member.

At the time of writing, non-members experience the following restrictions:

  • 15 out of 23 skills, with additional limitations.
  • Limited transportation options
  • Limited equipment
  • Limited items
  • Seven dungeons
  • 22 out of 119 quests
  • Fewer mini-games
  • Fewer servers to choose from (84 out of 234 worlds)
  • Trade restrictions for new characters
  • A maximum of 400 bank slots
  • A maximum of 3 Grand Exchange slots
  • Significantly fewer accessible map locations

Though many players pay for their membership with real money, it’s worth noting that you can also purchase a membership with in-game currency by buying an OSRS bond. Old School RuneScape bonds usually cost between five a six million gold and grant players 15 days of membership each.

Due to skill and item restrictions, however, making enough gold for a bond can be very time-consuming. Even the best free-to-play money-making methods cap out at around 500,000 gold per hour, meaning it would take at least 10 hours of work. Realistically, though, most players will be earning much less than that and could need to invest 30 hours or more.

This is somewhat balanced by the fact that once you have a membership, it’s much easier to make money and therefore maintain your subscription exclusively through bonds.

Is OSRS membership worth it?

Whether or not it is worth paying for OSRS membership depends on the player, their playstyle, and the frequency of play. If you have enjoyed the free-to-play game and are looking for more content, skills, story, monsters, or bosses, membership holds an incredible amount of value. This is especially true if you play RS3 also, as your membership will apply to both versions of the game.

While it’s definitely possible to pay for your membership through bonds, this requires a significant time investment. At $8.34 – $10.99 per month depending on a subscription plan, those with a day job may find it more beneficial to pay rather than spend their limited free time grinding for gold.

However, if you’re the type of person who enjoys money-making in RuneScape, paying for a membership through a bond is a no-brainer.

Old School RuneScape Lore and History

Like its successor, OSRS is based on a rich-high fantasy world with plenty of history for lore-heads to dive into. To cover all of it would be a mammoth undertaking, but the basic premise is that the history of RuneScape is split into six ages:

The First Age – Mythic Period

Very little is known about the First Age except that it was the birthplace of RuneScape’s world Gielinor, as we know it. It is said that at the time one of the gods, Guthix, discovered Gielinor, it was an unspoiled paradise, inhabited by giant creatures called colossi, which were created through exposure to the RuneScape, the magical energy that surrounds Gielenor.

Guthix shaped Gielnor as he pleased. Shortly after, he invited the Goddess of Light, Seren, who brought the elves from their homeworld of Tarddiad. The elves settled in Tirannwyn, and created the city of Prifddinas. Shortly after, Guthix opened the gateway to other worlds to allow other races, such as humans, through.

Reports suggest that in the middle of the First Age, Guthix descended into the earth, beginning an 8000-year slumber. It was during this period that the world’s colossi ascended into powerful beings and that the other gods began to arrive. One of these gods, known as Saradomin, rose, followed shortly by Zaros, and so the Second Age began.

The Second Age – Ancient Period

Over a period of 1,780 years, many gods walked Gielnor, established territories, created races, and gained followers. The world’s political structure, though, was largely controlled by Zaros, who was by far the most influential of the time. He expanded rapidly and aggressively, striking fear in the hearts of the gods who opposed him.

Bringing with him demons, vampires, and more, Zaros’ empire would eventually lay claim to seven-tenths of the world’s mainland. Only the elves and Menaphites could hold him back until, like many great empires, it tore itself apart. Zaros’ most trusted general, Zamorak, killed him using the Staff of Armadyl, in the process stealing a portion of his power and becoming a god in his own right.

This sparked a civil war in the Zarosian empire between loyalist and Zamorak factions, which weakened the empire enough for gods such as Saradomin, Armadyl, and Bandos to reclaim territory. Eventually, the other gods banished him from Gielnor.

The Third Age – God Wars

There is some disagreement about when the Third Age started, but many define it as the moment Zamorak, after being banished by the other gods, returned to Gielnor with an army to retrieve the Stone of Jas, which Saradomin previously took from him.

War ravaged the world for almost 4,000 years as the gods and their followers formed different warring factions that tried to lay claim to the territories of Gielnor. With the gods able to directly interact with the world, this spelled disaster for many of Gielnor’s races. Giant battles and cataclysmic events drove humanity to the edge of extinction and all but annihilated centaurs, wyrms, white dragons, orks, and more.

Seeking an end to the carnage, four druids of Guthix performed a ritual to wake the god, who was horrified by what he saw. He slammed his blade into the area that was once the shining jewel of Zaros’ empire, Fornthry, creating what is now known as the wilderness and its volcano. In doing so, he established the Edicts of Guthix and banned all higher tier gods from Gielnor. And so began the fourth age.

The Fourth Age – Mortals

With direct divine interaction banned from Gielnor, the surviving mortal races could finally flourish. No longer ravaged by war, they began to found settlements and then kingdoms. Gnomes and dwarves rose from the ground, Lumbridge came into being, and new species emerged.

Still, though, peace was not a defining feature. With the population of various races exploding, conflict rose. Civilizations fought to carve out a place on the land that the gods left to them. The Zamorarkians were wiped out, while the ogres of the Fendip halls fell into a bloody civil war and eventually led to a genocide of neighboring goblin tribes.

After countless crusades and conflicts, however, the humans came out on top. This was owed almost entirely to their discovery of ancient runic magic. Using a secretive process, they were able to mine Rune Essence and create runestones that let anyone with a middling magical ability cast spells.

The Fifth Age – Humans

The discovery of runes and construction of the Wizard’s Tower ushered in a new era where humans were clearly the dominant military force.

However, Runic magic’s advances weren’t limited to its military strength spurred advances in all kinds of areas of human’s lives. Directly and indirectly, they allowed humans to innovate in technology, economy, philosophy, and politic, creating a sort of golden era for the race. Though there was still conflict with the elves, barbarians, demons, and necromancers, the world of Gielnor was more peaceful than it had been in a very long time. Eventually, in the fifth age’s 155th year, the last group of human nomads settled down, and it’s shortly after this, in the year 169, that Old School RuneScape is set. From here, you make your own history, whether that will be as a master crafter, feared PvP’er, or Grand Exchange mogul.

Closing Words

I’ve only scratched the surface of Old School RuneScape’s lore and history today, and that may be a good thing. A lot of the joy in OSRS comes from discovery and exploration –  whether it’s the world around you, an interesting piece of lore, or the best way to train a particular skill. What’s certain, though, is that this game with humble browser-based origins will continue to grow in scope as its community-driven development process continues. If you haven’t started already, now is the best time to get started with this fascinating throwback to 2007.

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