Making RuneScape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game

Collector's Edition (left) and Standard Edition (right)

Welcome, ‘Scapers, old and new! In this blog series, we’re letting the designer of RuneScape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game loose to give you everything from behind-the-scenes insights to tips on how to play the game. Take it away, Richard! We’ll be over here in the corner, bracing ourselves…

Hello, all! I’m Richard August, the soul lucky enough to have had the pleasure of bringing RuneScape to the tabletop in roleplaying form. I’m here to (hopefully) entertain you with some behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and get you ready to play the game when it releases on February 29th. 

(Don’t let the introduction from my esteemed colleagues fool you. I’m lovely, really.) 

In this post, I’ll cover why we created a bespoke roleplaying system (instead of using 5e, for example). This particular post will probably be of most interest to those already familiar with roleplaying systems. But of course, all are welcome, and if you have any questions, you can find us and other fans in the Steamforged Discord.

How We Started

Adapting an IP as venerable, complex, and beloved as RuneScape and Old School RuneScape is never an easy task. How could it be? Hundreds of quests, years of lore, endless resources and items to craft… It's a vast amount of material to try and digest. 

So, as the person responsible for trying to turn a behemoth of a game into something you can grab off the shelf and get to the table in twenty minutes, I knew the first step was to strip back to essentials. 

What Makes RuneScape Feel Like RuneScape? 

After a period of intensive research (I did a lot of wandering around Taverley and elsewhere, and a lot of time reading the wikis), I came up with the following list:

  • Gielinor: Obviously, Gielinor is a key part of RuneScape. I can hear you shouting it at your screens as you read this—though that might just be the voices in my head—but it’s true. Gielinor, in its mixture of classic fantasy tropes, whimsical British humour, and general oddness, informs every part of RuneScape. The essential character of Gielinor is the essential character of RuneScape. 
  • Mechanical Simplicity: It should be easy to play. This was a very important feature. RuneScape and Old School don’t inflict a vast mental load on their players, and neither should the TTRPG. It’s a game with depth, yes, but it can be played casually. I wanted to capture this in the system we utilised.  
  • Accessibility: RuneScape and Old School are easy to get into. You make an account and start clicking away. You’re good to go in minutes. TTRPGs often have a reputation for being off-putting to new players. They can seem strange, arcane things from the outside. Big, hefty rulebooks (heavy emphasis on the plural), strange dice… it’s a lot. Even with the recent explosion of mainstream attention on TTRPGs, they’re still a lot harder to start playing than most MMOs. Finding a means of making RuneScape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game as easy to pick up and get to the table as the video games are, was vital. 

Making Gielinor Feel Like Gielinor

The first element, determining how to create the right Gielinor on the page, was definitely the most difficult. When should it be set? Do we focus on Gielinor as understood by players of Old School, or RuneScape? 

Now, the handy thing about making a licensed game is you get to talk to all the people who spend their time creating new material, delving into the mysteries of Gielinor, and determining what’s next. So, we sat down with Mod Jack, Mod Stu, Mod Ed (among many others), and established the parameters of the RuneScape Kingdoms world. 

The aim, for us at Steamforged, was to present a version of Gielinor which all players would recognise. Whether they only played RuneScape, preferred Old School, or adored both, we wanted them to see their favourite version of Gielinor. 

This wasn’t an easy goal. Gielinor is a living, breathing world and constantly in flux. As a result, we opted to present the world as it appears in the 5th Age, as in Old School, but to incorporate those elements of RuneScape which felt most… well, cool. Making this decision was pretty much the central element in allowing us to get the game moving.

Choosing a Dice System

The decision to go with a 3d6 system happened after several different ideas had been considered and ruled out.

Using a d20, fifth-edition-derived engine was on the table for a long time, but it simply never felt RuneScape-y enough. Classes, races, spell slots… they just didn’t fit. 

The second option was a percentile, or d100, system. Many great games use a percentile system, but they tend to result in a hero who doesn’t feel especially competent—the greater range of results means that even if you have a skill of 70%, you feel surprisingly likely to fail. Making a character feel skilled and experienced in a d100 game is difficult, and often involves artificially padding the character generation process. This wasn’t something I was keen to do, because the longer and more complex character generation is, the less accessible it is. 

As a result, I felt 3d6 offered several advantages. It was very easy to grasp, and it was playable with the most commonly-available dice size. Yes, d20s and polyhedral sets are more available now than ever before, but even the defiant non-gamer can lay their hands on a few d6. 

3d6 also offers a nice bell curve, statistically, ensuring characters always have a good balance of success and failure. This definitely ensured the game was accessible enough, and also ensured even the most inexperienced of tabletop gamers would be able to get playing!

The Bible, AKA The Core System Document

At this point, with these decisions made, it becomes about getting the words down and testing the ideas. So, I created a Core System Document. This contained the embryonic versions of all the rules found in the RuneScape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game, enabling us to begin testing, refining, and sharing them with the Jagex team. 

Once the system was approved, and I was happy with the basics, we could begin building the full, comprehensive game engine, and y’know… writing the book!

In a Nutshell…

I’m always conscious of making sure these posts don’t go on too long, so I’ve tried to distil the process as much as possible. I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to the lengthy period of time I spent assessing whether the game should be purely skill based, or if it needed attributes to offer greater variety for characters, and greater flexibility when it came to attempting to tackle obstacles… Trust me. 

RuneScape Kingdoms: The Roleplaying Game is available to pre-order now and releases February 29th! For the time being, feel free to join our Discord and hang out with the author and other 'Scapers like yourself!