Legends of Runeterra

I am a bird.

May 19, 2023

Hi! I’m Brian, a senior game designer on Legends of Runeterra and set lead for Glory in Navori and the next expansion (🤫). I’m also one of the driving forces behind the move to add more subtypes to LoR—so let’s talk about it!


We’re adding four animal subtypes: Birds, Cats, Dogs, and Reptiles, and we’ve changed the card frame to allow it to display two subtypes on one unit. This might seem like it’s coming out of nowhere, but we have good reasons for it.

The biggest reason is that adding new subtypes to the game gives us more card traits to reference with future cards and mechanics, opening up new decks and gameplay. Similar to the way LoR currently has Dragon and Elite decks, we’re laying the groundwork for potential archetypes for these subtypes. These kinds of decks, built around cards with the same subtype, offer a straightforward deckbuilding plan that’s super approachable for new players and add novel directions for experienced players to tap into as well.

In addition to that, we’re adding animal subtypes specifically because people really like animals! Our own Dan Felder posted on the LoR subreddit saying he’d design a custom card for any player that provides a pic and description of their pet, and ended up designing more than 20 of them in less than a day! Many folks on the team have pets of their own, and Riot Durdle is well-known for trying to make half his unit designs into dogs. So why not make it official!

Finally, changing the card frame is a future-proofing move. We introduced our first dual-subtype unit three years ago in Call of the Mountain and again with Mecha-Yordles in Beyond the Bandlewood. In both of these cases, we had to do some pretty weird stuff to let these units have two subtypes. I’ll say more on that in a bit, but for now just know that we can be far more comfortable creating dual-subtype units when they don't have development costs or have to say “I am a Dragon.” on them. We GET IT, The Great Beyond. Stop rubbing it in our faces.


It wasn’t hard to get the team onboard with adding some number of new subtypes. Design loves when we can set up new gameplay patterns that interact well with our existing collection. We looked through the collection and identified Birds, Cats, and Reptiles as subtypes with enough units to make sense. A few days later, Riot Runeclaw walked over to my desk and gave an impassioned plea to add a Dog subtype too. I don’t actually remember the details of what she said as I was pretty much sold instantly; I’m a dog person anyway.

And that’s about where it stopped being easy. Welcome to game development!

After playtesting the changes for a bit, it became apparent that what did or didn’t count as a Bird, Cat, etc. was… subjective. There’s nothing wrong with some subjectivity, but it can be a real hindrance when trying to align on certain decisions. There was also a pretty big issue for future content: how can design ask our art team for an illustration of a Bird unit but not be able to articulate to them what does and does not count as a Bird?

Using the existing pool of units, we created and aligned on rules for what the required and disqualifying traits are for each of the new subtypes. Each subtype has specific rules, but in general they all disqualify any unit with a humanoid form like a Vastaya or demon or other anthropomorphic animal (with exceptions for multiple subtypes, more on that below). This may seem strict, but it gives our art team a lot more flexibility when illustrating units without subtypes. We don’t want to lock away their creativity behind gameplay ramifications.


Must Have

Can't Have


Counter Examples

Any of the following

- subtyped character is subject of the card's name

- organic creature

- the name directly contradicts the subtype

- distinct existing species (in Runeterra) that isn't subtype (e.g. Whump)

(any of the below examples)

- Basilisk Rider (basilisk isn't subject of card)

- Petricite Broadwing (inorganic)

- Starlit Seer (owl isn't card subject)


- wings

- mostly avian head (beak, no ears)

- feathers or implied feathers

- humanoid limbs

- humanoid proportions

- significant non-bird features (e.g. 6+ legs)

- Omen Hawk

- Harbinger of Thralls

- Stygian Onlooker

- Anivia

- Bloodcursed Harpy (humanoid proportions)

- The Spirit of Wuju (no wings)

- Dancing Droplet (no feathers, inorganic)


- 4+ legs

- tail

- mostly feline head (short snout, whiskers, pointed ears)

- fur or implied fur

- humanoid limbs

- bipedal form

- significant non-cat features (e.g. large wings)

- Wildclaw Alpha

- Crimson Bloodletter

- Subpurrsible

- Hungry Owlcat (significant non-cat features)

- Clump of Whumps (distinct species)


- 4+ legs

- tail

- mostly canine head (long snout, large ears)

- humanoid limbs

- bipedal form

- significant non-dog features (e.g. large wings)

- Obedient Drakehound

- Puffcap Pup

- Rimefang Wolf

- Rampaging Baccai (bipedal, humanoid)

- Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed (distinct species)

- Chip (no canine head)


- scales or implied scales

- tail

- mostly reptilian head (triangle shaped, no ears)

- humanoid limbs

- humanoid form

- dragon features (e.g. wings)

- significant non-reptile features (e.g. amphibian skin)

- Bitsy Lizard

- Wily Newtfish

- Scaled Snapper

- Gigagromp (amphibian)

- Shellshocker (humanoid form)

- Stalking Broodmother (dragon)

- Deadbloom Wanderer (inorganic)

Another consequence of this change was finding several units that we felt deserved both their current subtype and one of the new ones we were adding. Basically, we knew people would riot in the streets if Yuumi wasn’t a Cat, but our existing dual-subtype solutions were… less than ideal. We’d either have to make a new custom subtype named “Fae-Cat” or add “I am a Cat.” to her text box. These solutions are a bit odd aesthetically, but they also have real costs if we were to start using them more frequently: each new custom dual-subtype combo would require new translations from our localization team, and adding “I am a (subtype)” makes the card text longer, which increases the cost of card comprehension and can turn away new players, even if the text is simple.

We spun up a Problem Solving Group with representatives from game design, UX design, engineering, tech art, and localization to explore what two subtypes on a unit would look like and how we could get it in the game with low cost and low risk. After our investigations, we settled on a fairly simple one-line-per-subtype approach with a max of two subtypes. This didn’t require a list-separating text character and minimally covered the illustration while satisfying the most important design goal. Eagle-eyed players may have noticed the slight subtype bar change a few patches ago to allow it to resize easily for the second line.

We also revisited our Mecha-Yordle implementation to clean up all of the technical behind-the-scenes awkwardness. Mecha-Yordles are now both Mecha and Yordle, which should have minimal gameplay ramifications and means Mecha is now its own subtype! To my fellow LoR devs I ask: Mecha Dragons WHEN.


There were some pretty interesting calls made during this process that I’d like to highlight, as I think they offer a look into just how absurd game development can get sometimes. As a caveat, it’s possible for these decisions to change in the future.

Nasus is a Dog?

While the strict set of animal subtype rules is important for keeping the team aligned, there are times where it makes sense to break them: narrative exceptions and dual-subtype exceptions.

A good example is The Messenger. If you asked most people what they were looking at, they would say a dog. But if you went by the rules, this good boy wouldn’t count because he is a universe-sized ethereal star being, which is unfortunately “not organic.” In many cases it’s impossible for a unit to meet the strict criteria of two subtypes at once, so the rules are bent when we want them to have both. This leads us back to the question: is Nasus really a Dog?

Not strictly, no. But is Nasus an Ascended with the aspects of a hound? Absolutely yes. Yes, we could have left the animal subtypes off for the Ascendeds entirely, but the animal aspects are part of their characters, (see: Nasus’s Who Let the Dogs Out joke in League) and there’s value in giving them that little additional gameplay hook. I personally can’t wait to see the jank Azir Bird decks.

And as for narrative exceptions, it lets us make the occasional lore reference to stoke player curiosity and delight: “Why the heck is Professor von Yipp a Cat?

Why isn’t “Fae Cat” on one line?

Players who play in English might have raised an eyebrow at these mere six letters being on two separate lines. I touched on this a little above, but here’s a longer answer.

It’s easy to look at Fae Cat and say yes, that can fit on one line… in English, and probably all of the other languages we support. It’s harder to look at Ascended Reptile and say the same. We could make the subtype bar calculate the length of the text and dynamically adjust itself to be one line or two, but that seriously adds to development cost and QA time. We’d also have to pick a list-separating character, which turns out to have localization implications. When we suggested the humble comma for separating subtypes (spaces were already disqualified thanks to “Sea Monster”), our localization team pointed out this would be confusing in many other languages. Ultimately, since only 24 of our 1000+ units have multiple subtypes, the most practical decision was to always use two lines for now. We’re interested in updating how our card frame tech works in the future and may revisit this during that work.

How is a card with Lizard in its name not a Reptile?

This is one of the problems when dealing with hundreds of existing cards that were designed with no knowledge of the brand new rules you’ve created. Lounging Lizard is probably the most unfortunate of those instances, but he’s clearly a humanoid with his two-legged stance and fancy clothes. We discussed changing his name, but in the end decided it was acceptable for older cards to have the occasional quirk.

Aaaaaand let’s rapid fire the rest of these:

Dragons aren’t Reptiles?

They have wings and breathe fire, they’re a separate thing.

No frogs?

It’s Reptile, not Herptile.

Wolves are Dogs?

Effectively yes, enough for our purposes. Okay, moving on.


A lot of what I’ve talked about is how we applied our rules to existing cards, but the big reason we did this was for the future potential. We see these subtypes growing over time with buildaround cards and novel gameplay patterns that turn them into their own fully functional decks. Here’s what we’re thinking at the moment for the regions and playstyles that make sense for each kind of animal.

Birds: Ionia and Demacia

Cats: Piltover & Zaun and Shurima

Dogs: Freljord and Demacia

Reptiles: Noxus and Bilgewater

Right now, Birds have the closest to a definitional playstyle as fragile units that are good at picking fights. Cats are less well-defined, but are generally going to feel tricky, evasive, death-defying, and clever. Dogs are even looser, but they have the beginnings of an identity around being helpful to other allies that feels right, and we’re still exploring the right identity for Reptiles.

None of this is set in stone, and you’re likely to see many examples of these subtypes falling outside of these “main” regions as we don’t want this to be restrictive, but it’s where our compass is currently pointing.


We’re excited to see what y’all do with these critters now and as they develop over time, but I’ve said all I have to say. Bye bye! You have to look at my dog now.