When was the last time we released a traditional mage?
If you ask champion designer Daniel "ZenonTheStoic" Klein, he'll argue that every recent AP champ has had some odd, non-magey twist: Aurelion Sol feels untraditional because of his orbiting stars, Ekko is more of a Diver or Skirmisher, and Azir has Marksman-like qualities. Vel'Koz is totally an artillery mage, but many players took him bot lane to play Support. You've got to go all the way back to Lissandra to find a champ that really fits the "traditional mage" label, and she was released in April, 2013.
We wanted a champ that felt like an old-school League of Legends mage. "Then it hit us," says ZenonTheStoic. "What about an earth mage from Shurima? The idea seemed like fertile ground."
The Shuriman Desert isn't the easiest place to grow up. After Shurima fell, the people of the empire were scattered to the winds, eventually forming nomadic tribes. We imagined a young nomadic girl who was born with a strange and rare power. Magic is a rare thing in Valoran, so no one in the tribe could teach the girl how to control or manage her abilities.
In some early concepts, we considered making Taliyah a “spite” mage, a cruel sorceress who slings curses and hexes (and otherwise bad vibes) at opponents. Curses on you, your children, your couch, etc. Some Rioters are pretty amused by the idea of a permanently-salty champion, but we'll have to revisit it at a later date.
Taliyah's gift is her ability to manipulate rock, but she was raised by nomads—people unlikely to have much knowledge about making things out of stones. Rock structures are too heavy, too permanent. Taliyah grew up surrounded by shepherds, textile artists, and weavers, so in order to understand the power within her, she began to think of it as being like weaving cloth. Others see rock as a hard, immutable material, but to Taliyah, the earth teems with strands of sediment just waiting to be looped and sewn together into a new tapestry. The problem is, stoneweaving tends to make more of a mess than weaving garments. If Taliyah isn't careful with her powers, she could accidentally hurt the people around her.
"Taliyah's need to understand and gain more control over her chaotic power is a major part of her story," says narrative writer Ariel "Thermal Kitten" Lawrence. To achieve that control, Taliyah would ultimately have to leave her tribe, embarking on a journey to find a teacher that could help her harness her potential.
One design goal for Taliyah was to capture the chaotic potential of her powers on the Rift, as if her powers are barely-contained. We achieved that by making her ult—her most powerful ability—feel crazy strong. "In fact, we specifically tuned it to feel almost too fast," says ZenonTheStoic. "It's like she's not totally in control."
Because Taliyah strives for self-control, using her basic abilities shouldn't feel like you're wildly ripping apart the earth or smashing big boulders together. Taliyah wants her stoneweaving to feel elegant, structured, even rhythmic.
When she hurls her Threaded Volley at you, the rocks fly in a measured thump, thump, thumpthumpthump pattern. Her other spells are similarly composed of lots of smaller rhythmic effects. When someone gets thrown through a field of Taliyah's Unraveled Earth, it doesn't blow up all at once. They pop one-by-one in the order they were touched, like a deadly piano glissando.
On a surface-level, Taliyah's insistence on weaving rock elegantly might lead you to think that she’s similar to Jhin; after all, they’re both destruction artists. The difference is in their intentions: Jhin uses the tools at his disposal to create art. For him, art is very much the purpose, the end-goal. Taliyah does what she does because she has to in order to protect her people. Artistry is just the only way she knows how to express it.
The weaving metaphor also manifests in the way Taliyah uses her ultimate ability to construct a map-spanning wall. There are many ways to build a wall—she might have done it with piles of layered stone—but instead, she laces threads of rock together in a line that looks a lot like stitching in a piece of cloth. She's reshaping the Rift, not destroying it.
In early playtests of Taliyah, we toyed with the idea of giving her some big, destructive abilities. One was an alternate ultimate that allowed her destroy any chunk of map terrain on the Rift. She could knock out entire base walls, chunks of the jungle, even the back side of the baron pit. There were obviously concerns from the art team about how to make this not look stupid in game, but the bigger problem was that this power didn’t seem like a Disrupter spell. It was primarily a way for her to open up paths for her allies, which made it feel a lot like a support ability. We killed the ability early in development—it just didn't fit our original vision for a classic, self-sufficient mage.
So, she's a traditional earth mage. But how do you make a someone look like they've got rock powers?
There are a few easy tropes designers can use to make characters look magical. “You can put a wizard hat on almost anything and it'll look like a sorcerer," says concept artist Hing "Hdot" Chui. "Put a wizard hat on a cat and boom, it becomes a wizard cat. You'd look at that cat and think 'he probably knows some spells.'" Unfortunately, it just wouldn't make sense to throw a wizard hat onto a nomadic desert girl.
One of the key aspects of a mage is the idea that their power is an innate ability. This could manifest as pulses of arcane energy emanating from their skin or burning electrical currents coursing through their veins. The trouble with these elemental effects is that they tend to be very glowy. Earth isn’t glowy at all.
The artists working on Taliyah also had to keep the Stoneweaver's appearance consistent with her kit. Before we were sure what her spell lineup would look like in-game, we explored giving Taliyah a sort of stone “spool” accessory she would use to gather rocks before unleashing them on enemies. The issue here was that Taliyah would only realistically use such a weapon up for charge-up abilities, and she has none.
In the end, the solution was to actively downplay her power. Many of League's champions are in their prime—they're kings, warriors, or gods. Taliyah is just a sixteen-year-old girl with a power she doesn't yet fully understand. She's rough around the edges, so we gave her messy, wind-swept hair, and the color palette of her costume is drawn from the redstone flats of Shurima. We also dug the idea that she used her powers to craft the rock mantle she wears around her shoulders. This reinforces the idea that, to her, rocks don’t weigh anything.
"Taliyah is still powerful, but she’s got room to grow," says artist Evan "Somnicidal" Monteiro. “And, in the end, isn't it more fitting for an earth mage to feel down-to-earth?”
Taliyah is rocking out on the PBE now. Get your worst earth mage puns ready—she'll hit the live servers soon.