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Ornn’s like the endearing, grumpy grandpa you can’t help but hug even though you know it’s a terrible idea. Underneath that soft and fluffy exterior is a grizzled steelworker who doesn’t have the time or patience for your pleasantries. He’s a demigod who’s seen some shit, and all he wants now is to craft hammers and other practical things in the peaceful solitude of his volcano.
Oh, and probably eat spiced cherries and drink ale—two things he certainly likes more than you.
Fires, Followers, and Hiding Forever
Most of what is known about Ornn comes from ancient Freljordian stories passed down across generations. Much has been forgotten, but surviving tales tell of a demigod who was born ready to tackle the world. Ornn never wanted to fight people, but he sure had it out for trees and icebergs and other natural landscapes. Nothing stood a chance against the young demigod’s barrage, until Ornn punched a mountain, and it didn’t move.
It was on.
Invigorated by the challenge, Ornn rammed his head into the mountain until it eventually yielded. Legend says all of the mountains and valleys of the Freljord were created during this kerfuffle. When Ornn later thanked the land for their good-natured throwdown, the mountainside opened up to expose its lava-y heart. The land had deemed Ornn worthy of its secrets and bestowed within him the power of fire. What he saw in the flames was a powerful catalyst of change, much like himself.
Blessed with the power of fire and armed with his own flare for creation (and destruction), Ornn became the most legendary blacksmith in Runeterra. And as his prestige grew, so did the number of his followers. The most dedicated were a group of metalworkers—known as the Hearthblood—who settled at the foot of his mountain. Although Ornn never showed it, he respected the Hearthblood because they worked silently and diligently to forge the best tools and weapons possible.
Unfortunately, the Hearthblood’s fate was not a happy one.
When Ornn’s brother Volibear demanded Ornn forge weapons for Voli’s own brutish followers, Ornn refused. “Ornn has a much more humanistic approach for how gods should interact with people,” says narrative writer Matthew “FauxSchizzle” Dunn, “and he didn’t want to be a part of Volibear’s warmongering.” But Volibear wasn’t really the kind of demigod to take no for an answer.
So all hell broke loose. For eight days, lightning streaked across the sky and lava spewed from the once-quiet volcano. The two brothers fought with a fury forged through a lifetime of sibling rivalry. When the smoke cleared, Ornn’s followers at the base of his mountain were no more than charred bodies in a smoldering village, destroyed in a battle meant for the demigods.
Nobody has seen Ornn since. Some Freljordians believe he died at Volibear’s paw. Others say he still lives under the volcano, either maintaining the molten fires of the earth or crafting a super weapon. But really, Ornn chose hidden isolation in an attempt to preserve the lives of mortals. He sees how gods interfere with the destinies of humans, and he knows now that this interference can turn deadly. “Most gods’ lifeblood is their followers,” says art lead Chris “Skeeziks” Campbell, “but this guy is like, ‘Please, do not follow me.’”
Beneath Ornn’s rugged persona, he’s actually a giant teddy bear who really cares…from a safe distance.
Team Walrus or Team Ram?
It can be difficult to identify a champion in their early concept art, since most champs go through a ton of iterations during development. But Ornn’s narrative and artistic direction after ideation were actually pretty close to the final result. About a month or two in, the team knew they wanted to create a powerful, animalistic demigod from the Freljord who makes shit and is connected to volcanoes. It’s specific, but it’s also the reason you can recognize Ornn in most of his early concept art.
Perhaps the most heated element of Ornn’s design was whether he should have tusks or horns. In the beginning, Ornn had walrus-like tusks, which was fitting—walruses feel powerful and aggressive without being evil. But with walrus tusks, it looked like Ornn might be more of an ocean dude than a mountain one. Wooly mammoths lived near mountains, but their oversized, curved tusks would get in the way of Ornn freely swinging his hammer… and Ornn’s a man of practicality.
Ram horns started to really seem like the way to go. For one, rams live on mountains, and Ornn lives in a mountain (close enough). Rams like to slam their head into things, and blacksmiths like to slam their hammers into things. Plus, Ornn now had an in-game ability inspired by the ram concept art, where he’d charge at enemies and smash them into terrain. In a strange way, Ornn’s ram horns became the hammer and the wall became the anvil… and the champion trapped in between became the malleable metal.
All I Need is Myself…and Hammer
Since Ornn is League’s first blacksmith champion, there were a lot of ways to approach his gameplay design. In other games, blacksmiths are often NPCs who only exist to supply the main character on their journey. Ornn was never intended to be a part of the supporting cast, in either meaning of the word. “We didn’t want to make a champion who focused on making weapons that buffed their allies,” says game designer Blake “Squad5” Smith. “Ornn was meant to be a powerful vanguard who could hold his own.”
Giving Ornn the power to craft weapons—aka items—anywhere on the map fulfilled the blacksmith fantasy and the top lane fantasy, where you can sit on an island while the rest of the map fiestas. It was thematic, new to League, and strategically interesting: What does it mean if one champion can shop without going back to base?
The biggest concern for gameplay was snowballing, where Ornn crushes his lane opponent and can spend his extra cash without ever having to leave the lane.
If Ornn were a skirmisher like Riven or Fiora, this passive would never work. They’d faceroll their lane opponent way too hard. “We felt comfortable going this route because if Ornn gets ahead, he’s more likely to just become unkillable than kill you on repeat,” Squad5 says. “He might push you out of lane, but I think that should probably happen anyways if a champion gets ahead.”
Since all new champions need more than one passive (/s), Ornn is also able to unlock a small collection of statistically-superior item upgrades for his team. This means his team’s top-end gold value will always be higher than the enemy team’s, which matters a little early on, but a whole lot more in those intense games that push the hour-long mark. “I tried to make the items as cool as possible without having to sacrifice too much power from the rest of his kit,” Squad5 says. It helps that Ornn doesn’t just give away passive stats—he doesn’t believe in freebies, so you still gotta work to get the goods.
The most primal and sublime element of Ornn’s power is his connection to volcanoes, so for a while, Ornn’s ultimate was literally a volcano he raised from the earth. He could channel power into it, causing it to randomly spew lava and boulders everywhere. This idea led to a different ult where Ornn basically created a reverse Nami wave of lava. “I’m not gonna lie, a lava wave was super lame and totally my idea,” says Squad5, “but then the team was like, ‘What else could that be? An anvil? Something different?’”
Skeeziks took the lava idea and pushed it to its limits, drawing a massive, red-hot molten ram that Ornn could summon from nearly a screen away. Early feedback was pure hype. When Squad5 added the mechanic where Ornn could smash heads with the ram to redirect it, the team knew this was it. “We were making an ultimate ability for a demigod, so it needed to feel epic as hell,” Skeeziks says, “something that would echo through the stories of the Freljord for a thousand years.”
If he could, Ornn would probably show his approval in the only way he knows how:
“This is not wholly terrible. My hammer is better.”