Combat is subdivided into three main categories: melee, magic and ranged. Melee attacks are close range, magic attacks focus on using runestones to cast spells, and ranged attacks use projectile weapons like arrows, darts or knives. These combat types make up the “Combat Triangle”, which states that melee attacks are effective against ranged opponents, ranged attacks are effective against magic opponents and magic attacks are effective against melee opponents. The advantages and disadvantages of the combat triangle apply to both NPCs and player opponents. Unlike most games in the MMORPG genre, RuneScape does not require players to choose a character class nor are players bound to a specific category of combat. They may freely change between or combine the three styles of combat by switching weapons and amour.
Players die when their life points are reduced to zero. Lost life points can be recovered by consuming certain food or drinks. Players who die reappear at a respawn point of their choice with their life and skill points restored; however, they drop all but three chosen items, as well as certain common items. The dropped items form a gravestone, and they can be retrieved if the player can return to the gravestone before a certain period of time. However, there are situations in which all items will be lost upon death. Before December 2007, players went to the Wilderness to fight other players within a certain combat level range, hoping to kill them and gain their runescape gold.
In December 2007, the Wilderness was altered to prevent players from transferring in-game items for real-world currency. PvP combat was removed from the Wilderness and temporarily restricted to new mini-games named Bounty Hunter and Clan Wars. Bounty Hunter was replaced by special Bounty Worlds on 6 May 2009 in which players were confined to the Wilderness and could be assigned specific targets to kill. “PvP Worlds” were introduced on 15 October 2008 where players could fight almost anywhere in Gielinor, but these and “Bounty Worlds” were removed when PvP combat in the Wilderness was restored on 1 February 2011.