RuneScape takes place in the world of Gielinor, a medieval fantasy realm divided into different kingdoms, regions, and cities. Players can travel throughout Gielinor on foot, through the use of magical teleportation spells and devices, and via numerous other methods, such as charter ships. Each region offers different types of monsters, resources, and quests to challenge players. The game's fictional universe has also been explored through a tie-in video game on its maker's other website, FunOrb, Armies of Gielinor, and the novels Betrayal at Falador and Return to Canifis.
Players are represented in the game with customisable avatars. RuneScape does not follow a linear storyline; rather, players set their own goals and objectives. Players can choose to fight non-player character (NPC) monsters, complete quests, or increase their experience in the available skills. Players interact with each other through trading, chatting, or by participating in mini-games and activities, some of which are competitive or combative in nature, while others require cooperative or collaborative play.
The first public version of RuneScape was released on 4 January 2001 in beta form, and in December 2001, Jagex was formed to manage the game. As the game's popularity grew, the game engine was rewritten, and its beta was opened to paying players on 1 December 2003 under the name "RuneScape 2". It was renamed RuneScape upon its stable release on 29 March 2004.