It’s a social game, they said.

How to Fix Runescape’s Dead Cities

Many of Oldschool Runescape’s towns and cities, from Port Phasmatys to Lleyta, are dead. This wouldnt necessarily be a problem in many other MMORPGs, where towns and cities merely act as hubs for adventures in the countryside. But in OSRS, towns and cities really matter to core gameplay. With its unusually sociable player base and sophisticated market economy, OSRS needs bustling towns and cities just as it needs deserts, dungeons, and dragons. Losing these places means losing the heart of what brought so many of us into Runescape in the first place. For this reason, I would like to take a deep dive into the various ways that Jagex could transform OSRS’s dead cities back into lively hubs of player activity.

Not pictured: Dark wizard (level-7)

Ensure that every city has at least two to three viable skilling hubs.

Every large city needs at least three skilling hubs to feel alive. Rooftop agility courses help in this regard, but most towns and cities need more viable skilling opportunities. Consider Varrock, the model OSRS city: its western end is activated by smithers, its northern end is activated by woodcutters, and its eastern end is activated by rune ess miners and plank crafters. Compare that to Ardougne, a mostly dead city: even with an active rooftopagility course, Ardougne’s skilling activity is really only limited to two skills — agility and thieving — in a single section of the city. In Falador, the only real skilling available is mining, and even then, it’s only viable on F2P servers. Ardougne and Falador need more skilling opportunities, and they need them to be spread out.

Towns, on the other hand, can get by with one or two viable skilling sites. Draynor Village, Seers Village, and Al Kharid are among the most active places in the game, largely because they dominate segments of woodcutting, fletching, and crafting, respectively. Compare them to unsuccessful towns like Taverley, Brimhaven, and Witchaven. None of these cities have a single viable skilling opportunity.

Thankfully, this is perhaps the lowest of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to reviving OSRS’s towns and cities. Simply adding a few skilling sites — trees, ores, farming patches, fishing sites, etc — for the stretches of skills lacking viable sites would add a guaranteed player base. Sites serving skill levels above 92 (recall, 100/2 = 92) especially so, given that these players have so much work to do, creating a lot of player activity. With a little forethought, this could be accomplished without lowering the difficulty, since in some cases this might just involve moving existing sites from overactive towns and cities to dead or dying towns and cities. For example, why not add a new viable rune ess portal, move the lumber yard, or put farming patches in or near currently dead cities? A vocal minority of players will balk at first, but in the long run, this would revive a lot of dead content.

Zaff’s Staffs: the rare specialty store that anyone visits.

Make specialty shops useful.

Second, by selling unique, untradable items related to their wares. To avoid balancing issues, these could simply be unique fashionscape items. For example, the Shilo Village fishing shop might sell a tribal-style fishing pole that functions like any other fishing pole, or Jatizo’s armor shop could sell the unique boots that Fremennik NPCs wear. Not only would this help to revive dead towns, cities, and shops, but it would also allow players to show off the far-flung places they have explored and add a little flavor to skilling. Dead cities that don’t have any specialty stores — Port Phasmatys, Port Khazard, Miscellania — should be given one, along with a unique fashionscape item.

Hey, half of the server is here!

Expand the Grand Exchange’s physical presence — but reform what you can sell and where you can sell it.

Structural fixes might also help to revive spontaneous player markets. Here are two ideas: First, Jagex could remove rare and extremely expensive items from the GE. Nobody wants to return to manually selling thousands of bowstrings, ores, or ranarr seeds. But the market for rare items — extremely high-value items, clue scroll rewards, etc. — could and probably should be removed from the GE and handed back to player markets. Unlike with resource items, you don’t need these items to enjoy the game, and it makes sense that players should have to do a little extra work to acquire them. Players would quickly revive the markets and institutions (such as Zybez) that facilitate this trade, adding a needed element of socialization and activity to the game’s major cities.

Second, Jagex could break up the GE into multiple exchanges. Rather than simply opening branches of the same GE across Falador and Ardougne — following the World of Warcraft auction house model — Jagex could also create separate exchanges at separate skilling clusters. For example, Falador might host a mining and smithing exchange, Ardougne might host an herblore and farming exchange, while Varrock might remain a general exchange covering final products and any items not involved in resource-intensive skilling. This might create some minor inconvenience, but it would ultimately go a long way toward decentralizing the extreme and unhealthy cluster that currently exists in the suburbs of Varrock. This would also better reflect real-world markets: exchanges in the real world are not typically as centralized as they are in OSRS, with commodity exchanges often clustering near historic sites of production.

Put this in a city, save two pieces of dead content for the price of one.

Move guilds and active minigames to towns and cities.

When it comes to guilds, some of these moves are fairly obvious: Jagex could move the Crafting Guild up to southwest Falador, or the Legends’ Guild to East Ardougne. When and if new guilds are added, they should be added to dead towns and cities. There are also some obvious wins here: put the Thieving Guild in Nardah, the Agility Guild in Tree Gnome Stronghold, the Smithing Guild in Keldagrim, the Firemaking Guild in Dorgesh-Kaan, etc. And while minigames may seem uniquely place-specific, many could easily be moved, including Clan Wars, the Mage Training Arena, and Last Man Standing. By making remote guilds and minigames easier to access, this reviving effect might even work both ways.

Does Tree Gnome Stronghold need to take up a quarter of Kandarin?

Shrink the size of empty cities.

While the impulse to expand cities and make them ever grander might flow from a desire to turn around dead cities, a better path might simply be to shrink down unsuccessful cities to a size that better matches the amount of player traffic that they receive. This way, those players who are there will be around each other, increasing the chances of player interaction and leaving cities feeling less dead, all without needing to add any new content.

Every noob’s dream.

Ensure that every city is reasonably accessible.

NPC lives matter.

Give players a reason to explore cities.

Each building should be assigned a unique NPC — who you can still kill — with some original dialogue, perhaps telling you about the goings-on of the city or offering to make a randomly generated sale. They could also send you off on small daily quests, doing things like Animal Crossing-style delivery tasks or solving city-specific riddles. Buildings themselves also deserve some personality. Chests, crates, and shelves could once again host odds-and-ends, with the occasional unique collectible item. Bookshelves could occasionally provide texts covering any number of topics, from in-game lore to stories about the local NPCs. These books could then be collected and stored in player-owned homes. Whatever route Jagex chooses to take, the key takeaway is that there must be some reason to explore OSRS’s towns and cities, beyond standard quests or clue scrolls. As a happy side effect, this kind of content would add a lot of depth to the world.

All that space and nothing to do.

Make pubs useful.

  1. Introduce a “rest” feature whereby the longer players are logged out of the game in a pub, the longer they will have an xp modifier upon logging back in. This way, players are strongly encouraged to begin and end their play sessions in a pub—as a medieval fantasy character would! Such a feature would also help to encourage healthy playing habits, providing an incentive for players to log out and take a break. Older players will complain that this would make leveling easier, and it might on the margins, but it would without question inject a lot of energy into a currently dead area of towns and cities. (This idea should look familiar to players of World of Warcraft.)
  2. Have pubs quickly restore run energy. Very shortly after the OSRS cut off (in June 2009, specifically), musicians were added to Runescape. Sitting in their presence would rapidly restore your run energy, reaching 100 percent within 25 seconds. Rather than introducing musicians, OSRS could add this functionality to pubs, encouraging players on the move to occasionally congregate in pubs. Easyscape criticism would be kept to a minimum, since this feature wouldn’t be too useful.
  3. Divide up the Burthorpe Games Room among the pubs. The Burthorpe Games Room is the example of dead content. Let’s consolidate two dead pieces of content and have pubs host the board games. This could be bundled with a board games overhaul: Players could stake on games, watch the live games of others, and earn rewards for playing. Each game could have a global leaderboard with associated one-of-a-kind skillcapes for the top player in each game. Maybe for old time’s sake, annual competitions with large GP rewards could be held in Burthorpe’s pub — the Toad and Chicken Inn.

After thinking about the problem of OSRS’s dead and dying towns and cities for far, far longer than I should have, these are my ideas for reviving them. I am absolutely certain that there are many good ideas that I did not touch on in this piece. So what are your ideas? Share them in the comments below. And together, hopefully, we can nudge Jagex into turning a lot of dead content into lively, sociable, fun places to play Runescape.

the once and future city planner // AICP // @UCLAluskin // kentuckian in california

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