I realized I had to write about Swampletics a few weeks ago while watching an Old School Runescape Twitch stream. The streamer, B0aty, was idly harpooning sharks at the game's Fishing Guild when another player strolled up wearing a very distinctive outfit. They started spamming emotes on the fishing dock, and within seconds every single player in the Fishing Guild, not to mention the entire Twitch chat of several thousand viewers, caught the joke and exploded into a chorus of PogChamps. Every last one of them was chanting the same name: Swampletics.
Swampletics is the star of a weekly YouTube series from a player named Settled. Simply put, Swampletics is a Runescape character who cannot trade with other players, store any items in the bank, or—and this is the real kicker—leave the swampy region of Morytania. Settled has to use the extremely limited resources available in Morytania to progress, and he has to do it all on his own with only 28 inventory spaces—as opposed to hundreds of bank slots—to work with.
Settled's goal is to strengthen Swampletics to the point that he can complete the Theater of Blood raid located within Morytania, which is no small feat even on a maxed-out character with the best gear and no restrictions. You might think he'll just get a team of maxed characters to carry him through the raid, but you'd be wrong. As Settled explained in a recent video, his eventual raid team will have to match the gear and items he has on Swampletics, so the strength of his account will be the deciding factor in the raid's success.
I've been following Old School Runescape for a long time—hell, I've been following games for a long time—and I've never seen fan-made content catch fire like this. Every single episode of the Swampletics series has over 300,000 views, and the latest episode racked up over 200,000 views within nine hours. To put that in perspective, the Old School Runescape subreddit has 331,000 subscribers. Settled's subscriber count has more than tripled—from 52,000 to 183,000—in three months and change. The attach rate on Swampletics would embarrass The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I speak no hyperbole when I say everyone playing Old School Runescape today has watched or heard of Swampletics.
As a regular viewer of the series, it's not hard to see why it's caught on. Settled has created a custom game mode that's both staggeringly restrictive and incredibly inventive. His trading, banking, and geographical limitations force him to explore every corner of Morytania and leverage unconventional, often overlooked techniques in order to achieve things most players take for granted.
It took him a dozen hours to hit 15 Agility, a level most players knock out in minutes through quests, and that's just one example on a long list of daunting grinds. A minor milestone for the average player is an enormous achievement for Settled, and watching him experiment, gamble, and grind his way to victory is utterly captivating, like a mix of Mythbusters and Survivorman filtered through one of the oldest and most nostalgic MMOs around.
Settled has a plan
"My brother introduced me to Runescape when I was five, and I didn't know what I was doing at first at all," Settled says. "But I grew to love it, I don't really know why. It's a very satisfying game. You just want to make your character the best it can be, and that mindset has stayed with me since those days. That's what's so special about this game. After the 20-odd years it's been out, there are still ways to make it fresh and interesting, and there's something incredibly precious about that I feel. If you really wanted to, you could play the game for a lifetime and still have things to do. For me, I just love reinventing it in ways where it keeps getting harder and harder."
After maxing all the skills on his main character—who he also played without using trading or banking, by the way—Settled decided to create a region-locked character. First, he had to pick the right region. Morytania is an area most players spend relatively little time in, but that was far from the only reason Settled chose it.
Morytania is one of the more unique areas in Old School Runescape and has something of a horror movie flair to it. It's filled with werewolves, ghosts, ghouls, skeletons and other classic monsters. It's also a mid-level area, so Settled had a hell of a time just surviving there on a new, level five character. (Image via OSRS Wiki.)
"I went to a couple of different areas," he explains. "I ruled out the desert first because it didn't have much endgame content. Then with the continent of Zeah having so much content, I don't think I would feel that restricted, so I decided to go with a more restricting area. That's where Morytania kind of shines. It has the Theater of Blood raid, it has the Barrows dungeon. It's kind of the perfect area. I realize I'm a bit biased here, but it has an entire questline that's 99 percent completable inside the area, it has so much unexplored content, so many quirks and niche spots, an amazing endgame goal. I love it. It's probably my favorite area in the game. Before Swampletics, I don't think I looked at it the same way. I think that realization is probably pretty new. But it's always been up there."
The hardest part about sticking to Morytania has been training non-combat skills, Settled says—skills like Crafting, Smithing, and Fletching. The region wasn't built with the entire skill roster in mind, so several mainstay resources and training methods are sorely absent. His saving grace in this regard has been a mini-game called Temple Trekking, which awards books that grant experience in various skills. Ordinarily, nobody in their right mind would bother with Temple Trekking, but it's the only way Settled can level some of his skills. By his calculations, he'll have to put roughly 600 hours into Temple Trekking just to level one skill, Slayer, to where it needs to be. He's pretty sure that'll be his longest grind, but he's not 100 percent positive what the future holds.
"At this point, I have about 70 percent of it figured out in terms of how I'll get to this big endgame goal and the route I want to take," he says. "I don't have it all figured out because of things like skill order, items to get first, the efficient order to get those items. For example, grinding out Barrows before I do this Temple Trekking grind. I have to account for how much this stuff weighs and how much that will slow down my Temple Trekking if I get too much Barrows gear before doing it. Even things like the weight of my character has to be taken into account. The rest of it I want to reveal as the episodes move forward."
Settled researched Morytania for several days before even starting Swampletics, and he regularly stops to look into new possibilities between episodes. As the series progressed, he started to weave his findings into new episodes with more scripted, expository segments which help break up the clips of live commentary. In the process, he stumbled upon the storytelling style that's made Swampletics such a success.
"I like to put in these cinematic explanation sessions," he tells me. "Coming into this series, I wanted to make it something really special. I wanted to make the production quality super high. I feel that one thing that's been missing from Runescape videos for a long time—being someone who's really passionate about film—is this kind of storytelling element. That hasn't really been present in most progress videos. So I started doing these little cinematic sessions where I set up the plot and I announce a goal at the start of the video which I want to complete by the end of the video. I really started to love that style."
Recording and editing Swampletics has become a full-time job for Settled—he puts around 50 hours into every 10-20 minute episode—but he says it never feels like work. "Ever since I started doing YouTube, I've been super interested in the whole process. I took a little course in my final semester of high school where I met a bunch of lovely people and learned so much about the process," he says. "I took a serious interest in it, and ever since I finished that last semester, I started looking at it in a whole different way, even something as simple as a Runescape progress video. I'm super passionate about the game, I love the account. I'm kind of addicted to the account at this point, it's so much fun to play. It doesn't feel that way, but I guess it is a job."
"Episode 12, My Hunter Level is 2, was probably my favorite one to make," he continues. "I really enjoy discovery, and it kind of got a mixed reaction. It was some peoples' favorite episode, and some people thought it was boring. But the people who did enjoy it were like 'wow, I learned so much from this video.' And that's the stuff I love presenting. There are so many things about this game that nobody knows. Who knew that a piece of cheese spawning in a dungeon could totally change the game for you? But it can. That kind of stuff is so freaking cool. I really enjoyed editing that episode and reverse-engineering mechanics in the game."
Settled's love for the game couldn't be more obvious, and that enthusiasm has played a huge part in the series' success. For starters, you can't play a game like Old School Runescape if your heart's not in it. As I said in my re-review in 2018, it's not always a fun game and it can sometimes feel like a chore, but it's still damn satisfying to step back and look at the progress you've made.
Settled is clearly enjoying himself. You can hear it in his voice, and you can see it in the clever little short stories he writes for each episode. It gives his series a rare, infectious spirit that makes you want to root for him even more in whatever absurd grind he's undertaken.
I have no doubt that Settled will take Swampletics all the way to the Theater of Blood, but that endgame goal is many months down the line. And while everyone watching is excited to see him make it there, most people also never want the journey to end.
"I'm really loving the ride at the moment, seeing so many people so excited over something I make," Settled says. "I'm also glad people love the Swampletics character itself, the actual Runescape character. It's such a meme at this point. I love it so much."
Thank you for changing my life ❤ pic.twitter.com/xLnI5MwXWuMarch 17, 2019