How I accidentally became a Runescape coal baron

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Runescape was slow, ugly, and idiosyncratic. On the other hand, it was free to play, and would run on almost any computer without an installation. These two points alone made it the perfect choice for anyone who lacked money, power, or admin access to their computer. Runescape was a game designed for children. In many regards, it still is.

This was the point at which I should have logged off. I didn't. I couldn't resist the opportunity. All good MMOs tease the potential for grand social status, but this golden goose was too juicy to neglect. Given time, dedication and careful planning, I could easily become a Runescape master. I had an intellectual edge, my social skills were better, and I didn't have to be in bed by nine. I was going to be rich .

My ambitions had an endgame to begin with: I wanted a suit of mithril armour. But that didn't take long, and it didn't end there. In just over a month, I was the 63rd best Runescape miner in the world.

Mining appealed to me initially because it was so simple: wait till the ore reappears within a rock, then use your pickaxe to collect the goodies. Filling your inventory with 27 lumps of ore was easy enough, but the overwhelming demand would tend to slow things down. With more than one person trying to farm the same rock, mining could quickly become utterly infuriating.

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In the early days of mining bronze and iron, I would happily wait until the person in front of me had finished, but my patience quickly faded once I realised the money I could make by spending more time creating items at the furnace. Before my smithing skill hit level 30, I had been able to easily crank out iron bars at a regular rate. Now that I had stepped up to smelting steel, however, there was an additional ingredient required: two lumps of coal. I could personally collect the iron ore needed, but if I was going to maintain my previous momentum I'd need help with the rest.

“Hello JomboJames. Would you be interested in selling me some coal?” JomboJames stopped mining, and slowly walked towards me.

There were a few seconds of silence as he typed out his first response: “WUT”. Persisting, I explained that I was interested in buying his coal. These days you'll be lucky to get a piece of coal for less than 250 gold, but my offer back then was a meagre 50g for 10 lumps. After another few moments of weighing the deal up, he came to his final decision: “OLK BRB DINNER IS READ."

Once Jombo's dinner was no longer read, he met me by the bank. Over the days that followed, he proved to be an invaluable employee – delivering around 20 pieces of coal a day when he wasn't busy doing his homework or being sent to bed early.

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At this rate though, progress was still slow. Smelting ore was practically automatic – you simply found a furnace then chose how many metal bars you wanted to make. Consequently, I had lots of extra time on my hands. I decided it was time to expand my operation.

It had turned out that Jombo had a couple of friends who were also looking to earn some shiny fictional coins, and who would all meet me at the bank south of Varrock once a day to turn in their goods.

In retrospect, there was clearly a strange kind of reverence involved. All three would travel together, and approach me one at time – with JomboJames always the first to complete his part of the transaction. I expect this might have had something to do with the fact that I'd once told Jombo I was 17 years old – a revelation that could cause anyone under the age of 10 to find themselves suddenly lost in a fog of awe.

I don't think I ever asked how old they all were, but none of them seemed to have been alive for long enough to master words or numbers – given that each was being ripped off on a daily basis by a man in pink trousers who really should know better. “THANSK”, they might say – departing once again to begin another pickaxe-pilgrimage. It was basically a lot like the Nativity, except that the three wise men weren't wise, or men, and delivered only triple coal.

Jombo's crew were reliable, but they weren't my only suppliers. In under a week my influence had spread to three separate mining communities, with more than 20 different children contacting me on a daily basis to try to sell me the coal they'd been hoarding. I had suddenly become a coal baron, exploiting my workers with low prices, making trinkets and selling them on at enormous profit. Like most war criminals, I don't remember the names and faces, only the time, the location and the profits.

Go to page three for the beginning of the end.