In League, everybody is trying to kill everybody else. Despite their personalities or backstories, champs are all really on the Rift to do one thing: drain some health bars.
So, what if we made a nice guy? One who, no matter where he is, just wants to do something super sweet like save all the animals? Enter Ivern, the druid with the heart of gold.
Most great characters have a goal—an enemy to defeat, or a burning desire to fulfill, or some huge, grueling task ahead of them. Narrative writer Matt "FauxSchizzle" Dunn realized that, for Ivern to work as a character, he'd need to be a little more carefree. He'd need to be someone who's already fought his battles and overcome his demons: a character near the end of his narrative arc. So FauxSchizzle began sketching out the tale of the Green Father.
We struggled with figuring out a way to communicate that Ivern was "freeing" the monsters in the jungle, instead of abducting or vaporizing them: In early builds, his groves looked like flowery death machines which sapped the life force away from camps. He'd come prancing over, click on the grove, and the critters would fade away like little Jedi ghosts.
"Ivern used to be a man, a long time ago," explains FauxSchizzle. "He was a sort of Freljordian conquistador, the first one to discover Ionia." While exploring the Ionian forest, he happened upon a sacred tree called a Godwillow. Back then, Ivern was a miserly, vicious man; seeking the tree's power for himself, he cut the Godwillow down. But as wood cracked and fell, the tree's magic essence lashed out and gripped the Freljordian, reaching deep within him and bonding with his troubled soul. Tree and man became one, and in that moment all of Ivern's violence, selfishness, and cruelty was drained out of him. The void in his heart was replaced with childlike wonder and gentle curiosity. He was filled with a joyful zest for life.
"In the hundreds of years since then, he’s been wandering around the forest taking care of it," says FauxSchizzle. "He cares for all the creatures of the forest, and he has this strange, looming sense in his mind that, if he does his job well, one day he'll earn the right to become the tree he cut down."
We realized that if Ivern was really in the forest for such a long time, he'd probably start to develop pretty weird insights into his natural surrounding. He'd develop relationships with the creatures that live in the forest, some which would stretch back for ages. Ivern has a wild, crazy history with the Brambleback (Red Buff), and he occasionally references it when he encounters his buff buddy in-game: "It’s the Kumungu affair all over again!" he shouts. "Run!"
Ivern's a pacifist, and he loves the animals of the forest. So, an idea struck us: What if he's a jungler who frees monsters instead of harming them? It would work perfectly on a thematic level, but it'd also open up some really weird design possibilities—namely, we could make him a support-jungler.
Any jungler needs three things: mobility, some utility for ganks, and the power to clear out jungle camps. It's this third requirement that makes it nearly impossible for champs like Thresh, Nami, or Bard to work in the jungle. Their kits are packed with teamplay-oriented abilities, but they don't do so hot when facing down a pack of wolves. Even if they manage to clear out a few camps, afterward they're unlikely to be in good enough shape to go toe to toe with an invading Yi or an Udyr.
Our "free the animals" idea for Ivern was like a loophole we could use to bypass the damage limitations on supports. The Green Father's passive (Friend of the Forest) gives him all the power he needs to clear camps and level up, without making him oppressively strong in duels. This one ability freed up the design of the rest of his kit, allowing us to focus on abilities he could use to empower his team.
In early designs, Ivern had no way to give a buff to his allies—it's not like he'd be willing to leash it for them. But the whole idea behind the Green Father is that he wants to share the gifts of nature with others. "What are the gifts of the jungle?" asks champ designer Blake "Squad5" Smith. "Buffs!" The natural solution was to let Ivern create copies of buffs without causing harm to the camps."
The one really big exception to this is Daisy, Ivern's boisterous bestie who comes running whenever he needs her (assuming his ult timer is off cooldown, obviously). Before we invented Daisy, Ivern always needed an ally; he felt nearly useless on his own. To solve this, we landed on the idea of "a defensive Tibbers"—a big, adorable A.I. friend who could lend Ivern some muscle whenever he needs to escape a bad situation.
Unlike the other abilities in Ivern's kit, Daisy explicitly harms others instead of buffing Ivern's friends. This is partly a way to preserve Ivern's nice-guy mystique: even when he uses his ultimate to crush your backline, it's not really him doing it. It's his big, overexcited buddy!
We were keenly aware that Ivern isn't the first "tree guy" in League of Legends. Maokai and Zyra are the Rift's other nature-magic beings, but they differ from Ivern in a couple of ways. Maokai, unlike Ivern, was never actually a man. He's pretty much an angry batch of forestry brought to life. Zyra, too, is a sort of thorn monster taking on a human form. Ivern's human origin is the thing that makes him special.
Smash your taunt button while playing as Ivern, and you'll find he doesn't have too many zingers or insults to throw at other champs in League. Instead, he says nice things to everyone! When he taunts an enemy Maokai in-game, he makes a joke about cosplaying as a sassafras at next year's tree con.
We leaned a lot on our visual designers to capture and communicate little storytelling details that hint at Ivern's former humanity. They gave him a ring hanging from his antler that was probably once a part of his ear—perhaps it stayed hitched into the flesh as it was morphing into wood.He's also still got his little gauntlet he wore when he was a freljordian adventurer, although now mushrooms have grown all through it.
A big area of concern for our illustrators was Ivern's face. It needed to be human, full of emotion and personality. We realized that he ultimately needed to look like a very old man who's lived a life full of mischief and joy; we gave him a big ol’ crooked schnoz and put a kind twinkle in his eyes. "If you were to run into Ivern in the woods," says concept artist Chris "Skeeziks" Campbell, "how would you feel?" Would you want to A) give him a hug, B) take a picture of him, or C) run?
In the end, we decided the best design might evoke a little bit of all three reactions. Ivern's a friend of the forest, and when those who will evil toward nature's bounty come around, Ivern is left with no choice. Even nice guys have to fight, sometimes.
Ivern has emerged from the Kumungu jungles and is now freeing jungle monsters on the PBE. He'll prance over to the live servers soon.