More on Hero Design


This is an extension of an older blog post I wrote on hero design. Looking back at it now I feel that it’s incomplete and too short, so I wanted to rewrite it. Due to the length of this piece I’ll post it split up over the next few weeks.


In this blog post I will outline how to design a hero.

Each principle is listed in order of importance.

As before I recommend that if you’re just starting out with designing heroes you closely follow the principles until you feel you have a good understanding of what each one means. Create a few concepts first before you start breaking the rules.

Keep in mind that not everything listed here will apply to all heroes in Dota.

Individual synergy between abilities.

Abilities should be synergistic with each other. Before I explain what that means I want to explain the notation I will be using.


These 4 buttons represent abilities. Not every hero only has 4 abilities but I recommend that while designing a hero you keep it to only 4 for as long as possible. The secret to good design lies in simplicity.


The arrows represent synergies between abilities. In this example ability Q is synergistic with ability E, enabling it or supporting it in some way. The same is true with R (Ultimate) supporting or enabling W. If the arrows don’t point both ways it is intentional.


In this example Q and E support and enable each other both ways.

Most of this will be done on a purely theoretical level with Dota hero designs used as examples.

Multiple access points for synergies.

This is our first important principle and one that is often misunderstood. A common mistake to make is to tie all synergies to a single point.


So in this example all 3 abilities are tied to and supported by the ultimate. While strictly speaking this hero has ability synergies they all fall away once the ultimate is taken away. As a result none of the other abilities are tied together and this kind of hero usually feels like a collection of random abilities. These kind of heroes also tend to be very limited in their options at any given moment since everything revolves around a singular ability. If that particular ability isn’t useful in a specific circumstance then they aren’t left with very much to do in that circumstance.

A great example of fantastic ability synergy that avoids this problem is Pangolier.


Here is a quick breakdown of what his abilities do. Check here for more detailed information. But the general idea of this hero is to be a caster with some but limited attacking prowess. So what are the synergies?


Swashbuckle and Lucky Shot have obvious synergy. Swashbuckle gets attacks out which can trigger Lucky Shot. On top of that Swashbuckle can be used to get into position to attack regularly, which yet again helps with Lucky Shot.


Shield Crash has obvious synergy with Rolling Thunder. It can be used during Rolling Thunder to help with positioning and deal extra damage. Further it protects you from physical damage to which you are quite vulnerable during Rolling Thunder.

But of course Swashbuckle can also be used to reposition for Shield Crash, allowing for higher value hits.

And Shield Crash protects you while attacking, allowing you to trigger Lucky Shot more often.

If you want to you can continue breaking this down but I’ll stop here since I believe my point has been made.

Looking at the hero like this shows very clearly that even when an ability is on cooldown or otherwise disabled (including it simply being a bad time to use the spell), the hero still has options available. The individual synergies between the abilities offer a stability that the first example I showed doesn’t. This is right here is the reason why Pangolier feels so good to play.

Make the synergy be natural synergy, not forced synergy.

Synergy doesn't mean that abilities should reference themselves or other abilities. There are more elegant ways to do it. Going back to our previous example.


If I’m trying create synergies like this I can simply say:

  • If E is used after Q or W it has a bonus effect.

  • If W is used after Q it has a bonus effect.

  • If R is used after R it has a bonus effect.

While this would work it isn’t very good. One of the strengths of having multiple access points for synergies as described above is the flexibility that comes during play. A system as described here forces the players into very specific play patterns, limiting that flexibility. It also limits the heroes interaction with items or other heroes.

An example: Necrophos’ Ghost Shroud could have said that it amplifies healing provided by Death Pulse. Instead it amplifies all healing, allowing for additional synergy with healing heroes and healing items.

Not every skill has to have synergy with other skills.

Often it’s better to not tie every spell into every other spell. It either restricts or opens the hero too much and you end up with a less interesting product.

Skills shouldn’t be anti-synergistic.

It’s very important to not give your hero an ability that counteracts one of its other abilities or the heroes general playstyle.

To give some examples:

  • You wouldn’t want to give Ursa Decrepify. Ursa is all about attacking physically and decrepify greatly hinders his ability to do so.

  • You wouldn’t want to give Drow Ranger or Sniper Life Break. Not only are they too squishy to survive the damage taken and be able to fight but their entire playstyle is based around staying as far away from the enemy as possible. And in Drow Rangers case it would disable her ultimate.

  • Or something I have seen in a custom game: A hero that is all about dealing damage over time to enemies through keeping them inside a small aura effect around himself having an ability that pushes enemies away. This of course resulted in the enemy heroes being pushed outside of the aura, making it so the hero couldn’t do damage anymore.

I’ll end part 1 here. I’ll see you next week.

Miki Lloyd