Metal. If there was ever any more important discovery done for the progress of mankind in history, which could simply be dug out of the ground, I haven't heard of it.
Even today, the use of steel has never been higher at any point in time, and economic growth often shows a correlation with steel (and coal by proxy) consumption. So much so that a number of European countries, tired of going to war with each other every other week, linked their steel and coal markets together, which later became the European Union.
In RuneScape it wasn't all that different. In fact, Free-to-Play server combat still relies heavily on Rune armour and weaponry, including arrows, almost all of which can be manufactured by players.
But in the past, this emphasis was even stronger. Rune equipment was the most powerful thing in the game, and it could ONLY be made by players. During 2001's Christmas holiday event, Party Hats received from a Christmas Cracker were often discarded in favour of Rune equipment.
As a result, Smithing, along with Mining as its supporting skill, became one of the most sought-after higher levels.
But not anymore.
Rune might still be the most powerful and non-degradable F2P armour, but it is too expensive when compared to Blue Dragonhide and Batwing, due to the relative ease with which the raw materials are obtained. Not only that, but the level to make a complete set of each is 72 and 61 Crafting respectively, compared to 99 Smithing for a full set of Rune.
There are other inconsistencies, both in-game and comparing the game to the real world.
Iron ore, for example, isn't coloured brown, it's red. The iron in our blood is responsible for making it red, just as iron oxide, or rust, is what makes Mars, sometimes called 'The Red Planet,' red. And what about copper? Anyone who gets running water delivered to their house through copper pipes may have at some point noticed some greenish stuff around their faucet. This is copper rust, and it is the same stuff that gives the Statue of Liberty its green colour.
Even a metal as precious as gold is misrepresented in RuneScape. While it does appear as an ore, this is usually an alloy of gold and silver. Purer forms of gold are more commonly found in a vein, or as nuggets, flakes and grains.
And last but not least, coal is vastly oversimplified in RuneScape. Yes, there is a differentiation between mined coal and charcoal, but neither of them is doing their real-world counterparts any justice. Mined coal comes in much varying qualities (peat, brown coal, anthracite, and graphite, for example), and not all of them are suitable to smelt metals with. And in that same line, many blacksmiths historically preferred to use charcoal (made from wood, just like in Clan Citadels) for its lack of sulfur-based contaminants.
In RuneScape, as expected, there are also a few things that don't make much sense.
Smelting to process Runite into a pure metal bar requires the heat of 8 lumps of Coal burning simultaneously, but making weapons or armour from it does not require any heating. When making an item, you can apparently hammer a cold bar into the desired shape, without the need to make the metal malleable again. I also have to wonder how five separate bars can be fused together without welding technology.
Going further than that, once your Rune armour is made by simply hammering on it, it will never break again. It will, in fact, not even dent. No repairs are ever needed on armour of that quality, yet some of the stronger and lighter armours require large sums of money to be repaired to full strength again.
Another discrepancy can be found when you compare Smithing levels required for Rune and Tetsu (meaning "iron" in Japanese) armour. A whopping thirty-five tiers higher, with vastly superior stats, requires nine Smithing levels less to make. A similar case can be made for reassembling a Dragon Platebody at level 92.
Clearly this is a skill that needs to see some evolution of its own.
The nuclear option would be to just halve the required smelt and smithing levels for all the conventional ores, making them on par with what you find under Daemonheim. This would leave the skill with precious little to do when reaching the upper levels, so that too needs to be addressed.
For example, I've always wondered why I can't practise a little metallurgy, and combine the strength of Runite with the lightness of Mithril. It might require something as technologically advanced that only Keldagrim Dwarves and Dorgeshuun Goblins can come up with such a device, but then again they also came up with a Steam Train, the Blast Furnace, and electricity.
Some of the armour and weapons that do degrade over time can be repaired. This goes for Barrows, Drygore, Ancient, and superior Ports gear. I find it hard to accept that these items can be fixed with a hammer and some gold coins, and that the materials needed are merely implied. So why is there no Ancient Ore found in the game? Either to be mined, as a drop, or both, but Smithing could be made much more relevant (and cost-reducing) when it comes to fixing broken stuff.
Another odd inconsistency is that returning a bunch of Smithing supplies from a rabble of insurgents in the Wilderness to an old Ent instantly grants you thousands of XP. These items should instead be redeemable for actual smithing supplies, such as Bars, Ores, or Coal.
And since the introduction of the Dragon armour slice, shard and lump, as well as the Dragon Crossbow Limbs and part of the Square Shield as drops, and the Dart and Arrow bits from Impling Jars, why not introduce more drops? Sure, no one buys the Right Half of that shield anymore, and I also have my doubts about the Blast Fusion Hammer, but the premise is already there; Dragon Equipment parts can be part dropped, and part sold to artificially keep its price, and therefor its availability, up.
Finally, we do not have to stick too much to such a rigid and planned pattern of what comes available at a certain level, just because it is more powerful. Surely, it cannot be that much different to hammer a Kiteshield made from Mithril rather than one made from Steel?
Suppose the lowest levels only allow you to smith Daggers and Short Swords, but from any metal (Bronze at level 1, and Rune at level 10). And as you progress through the levels, you could 'unlock' how to smith a Scimitar, something learned at the Artisan's Workshop after successfully making a few Scimitars using the same principles as making Ceremonial Swords.
A similar thing could be done for armours, of course, and as a whole would certainly get rid of the idea that you can suddenly make a Dragon Platebody after doing nothing but hammering half a million Bronze Daggers.
I'm sure you have some irons in the fire of your own on how to fill in the gaps that I've left, and that's what the discussion thread is for. But when you do post your own ideas, please hammer out some of the details as well. After all, not all that glistens is gold.