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Monday, December 4, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Gnolls


Today we're going to take a look at a classic D&D monster that all of us have run into at least once. This is a guide to the rampaging hyena-humanoids known as gnolls. I tried to avoid overlapping info with my guide to Yeenoghu, who is a gnoll demon lord.

I've always liked gnolls. They're a bit scary, they look cool, and they're a neat alternative to orcs and goblins. I haven't really seen them used in interesting ways, though. I decided to do some digging and see what ideas were out there.

Once I went through all the official D&D books I could find, I learned that the early edition gnolls are pretty flat, but that there was an explosion of ideas from 3rd edition all the way to 5e's Volo's Guide to Monsters.

The Essential Information

By the end of the process, I saw how gnolls could be used a a cool, worthy adversary for low to mid-level heroes. Check it out:
  • They travel in packs, destroying settlements.
  • Through a ritual, hyenas who eat slain humanoids can become gnolls. That means that the gnoll pack can grow with each successful siege.
  • The demon Yeenoghu is very hands-on, guiding his packs with omens and symbols.
  • Yeenoghu will sometimes send a demon to aid or guide them.
  • In early editions, gnolls took slaves. In later editions, not so much.
  • There are a TON of really cool variant gnolls. My favorite are the Abyssal Slaughter-Lords. They have really long legs and arms and make a pack look very intimidating.


Tribe: You could use the info in here to make your own gnoll tribe. Here's the tribe I would make:
  • Hordes of Witherlings: Undead gnolls who act as the first wave in an assault.
  • Disease: The witherlings carry a disease known as the slavering canker.
  • Gorgers: The tribe has a number of gnoll gorgers, who the other gnolls are terrified of. The gorgers eat other gnolls to gain incredible strength. The devoured gnolls become witherlings. 
  • Far Fangs: The tribe's archers are known as "Far Fangs". Their "hungry arrows" cause bleeding wounds.
  • Leapers: Many of the gnolls are Havoc Gnoll Far-Leapers, gnolls with the ability to jump great distances.
  • Maw Demon: The tribe has a few maw demons as pets. These maw demons are treated with reverence, as anything they eat goes straight into Yeenoghu's gullet.
  • Refnara-Worshipers: I think it would be cool to have a small contingent of gnolls who worship the gnoll goddess Refnara and are put off by the actions of the Yeenoghu fanatics.
  • Chosen: The assistant to the tribe's leader is a Chosen of Yeenoghu clad in a rotting hooded robe, who has the ability to summon hyena spirits.
  • Cudgel: The tribe is led by a Fang of Yeenoghu, who wields a magic cudgel of bloody teeth. I'd probably mix in traits from the 4e Demon-Eye Gnoll, too.
AD&D 1st Edition Monster Manual

Here we get the baseline for gnolls. The details:
  • Gnolls have greenish-gray skin and brown fur. Their eyes are dull black and their long nails are amber-colored. They were piecemeal armor made from horn, metal and leather. Their garments are often shabby, moth-eaten and dingy. 
  • They are Lawful Evil.
  • Gnolls are over 7 feet tall.
  • They ravel in rapacious bands, the largest gnolls dominating the rest.
  • They have a so-called king who is powerful, but his authority extends only as far as his reach. In later editions, it is said that the females rule.
  • Chieftains runs bands of 100.
  • 85% of the time, gnolls are subterranean. In other cases, they live in abandoned villages.
  • They sometime have 1-3 trolls guarding their homes place. Trolls and gnolls get along fairly well (their names rhyme, after all).
  • Gnoll packs have 4-16 hyenas or 2-12 hyenadons as pets and guards. 
  • They always have captives for food or slave labor (1 per 10 gnolls, minimum).
  • Life expectancy is about 35 years, on average.
Keep on the Borderlands

In this classic adventure, the heroes can explore many different caves. Each cave is home to a different type of D&D monster.
  • There is a gnoll cave, and we learn a little bit:
  • Gnolls like to surprise and bewilder their enemies. They are bloodthirsty creatures and, once alerted to intruders, are likely to track down anyone who retreats from their cave.
  • The gnoll pack lord in this adventure has 4 mates.
AD&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual

Check out that DiTerlizzi gnoll! Pretty awesome. For me, that's the definitive gnoll art. We learn some new things about gnolls in 2e:
  • They try to defeat opponents by sheer numbers.
  • They rule by strength, fear and intimidation.
  • They dislike goblins, kobold, giants, humans, demi-humans and manual labor.
  • Gnolls eat warm-blooded creatures, they like the ones that scream.
  • Packs hunt until an area is ruined, and then move on.
Flind: Flinds are special, more powerful gnolls:
  • Flinds are a little shorter, broader, and more muscular than a gnoll.
  • Dirty brown and red fur. Their ears are ronded.
  • Weapon: Flind-bar: A pair of chain-linked iron bars spun at great peed. Can use it to disarm opponents. NUN CHUCKS
  • Gnolls regard flinds with reverence. They have at least a 13 intelligence and an 18 charisma.
Dungeon Magazine 48 - To Bite the Moon


Now we get into the good stuff. This adventure is full of fun ideas. It needs a bit of reworking, but you could do a lot of fun things with it.

The heroes go on a quest retrieve a ring of three wishes and a luck blade (which also grants wishes!). Gnolls stole them, but don't know what they are.

The adventurers are meant to creep through the gnoll lair while 71 gnolls sleep. The gnoll wearing the ring of wishes spots them and is disappointed that they're not enemy gnolls. She actually says aloud, "I wish they were gnolls from another tribe." The wish is granted and the heroes promptly become gnolls!

Useable Gnoll Ideas:
  • Kurgahr: A flind gnoll who leads the tribe. He is a cleric of Refnara, a gnoll goddess of fear.
  • Argor: Kurgahr's mate. She's wearing the ring of three wishes.
  • Gnoll tradition insists on an exchange of gifts whenever members from different tribes meet. You are supposed to say, "I welcome you, tooth brother (or sister)."
  • A spirit naga is impersonating the gnoll deity Refnara, and is using the tribe for her own selfish purposes.
Refnara, Gnoll Goddess: Refnara is apparently a real gnoll goddess!
  • She regularly tests her subjects by exposing them to frightening situations. 
  • During the full moon, Refnara expects a sacrifice or offering, so that she will bite pieces out of the moon and return darkness to the night sky. 
  • Gnolls are terrified of the full moon.
Gnoll Game: Blindfold a gnoll, slap and kick the gnoll while barking furiously. Whoever the blindfolded gnoll can wrestle to the ground is the next victim.

Tribal Dancing: Some gnolls bang on the floor with bones, others dance via hopping.

Complete Book of Humanoids

This book lets you make gnoll characters. Not too much new stuff. Gnolls who become adventurers often exhibit evil tendencies. It is hard for them to break their taste for intelligent creatures. Seems like a hard character to fit into a party without problems.

They have the ability to train hyenadons to use a mount.

D&D 3rd Edition

Here;s where the gnolls start to come together. It seems like that Dungeon Magazine adventure flew under the radar. I don't know if Refnara is mentioned in any other product. 3e gnolls:
  • Gnolls are nocturnal carnivores.
  • They think with their stomachs.
  • Gnoll alliances often fall apart when they get hungry.
  • 7 1/2 feet tall, weigh 300 pounds.
  • Gnolls revere the phases of the moon, but most tribes have no true clerics.
  • Their special patron is the demon lord Yeenoghu, who looks like a gaunt gnoll. Most gnolls serve and revere Yeenoghu rather than worship him as a deity.
Monster Manual 3
 

Gnoll, Flind: Flinds are clever tacticians who serve as leaders or elite hunters. Flinds have no great love for their lesser cousins.

Monster Manual 4

Tons and tons of information in this one.
  • Gnolls like to burn civilized settlements. Yeenoghu approves of their atrocities.
  • Female gnolls give birth to two to four pups about six months after conception.
  • Gnolls reach adolescence in about two years.
  • Matriarchal society. Gnoll females are larger and stronger than males. 
  • The dominant female takes the roomiest, most desirable quarters.
  • The alpha female marks her territory with a clan sigil drawn in blood. This blood comes from a slain underling.
  • Slaves endure constant malnourishment and regular beatings.
  • Worship of Yeenoghu is tied closely to the moon.
  • Yeenoghu represents the "ultimate mate".
  • Sacrifices are performed on the new moon. They kill captives and howl for Yeenoghu's favor.
  • Yeenoghu will sometimes send a demon to a tribe who will often take command and produce half-fiends.
  • The Great Geode: A gnoll lair described as an enormous bubble within a range of ancient hills. Completely encrusted with amethysts of little value.
  • Gashtooth: Tribe's leader.
There are new types of gnolls described in this book.

Gnoll Slave-Taker: These low-ranking gnolls travel in groups accompanied by hyenas. They use nets to capture slaves. They think of slaves as a living larder and replenish the supply at every opportunity.

Fiendish Cleric of Yeenoghu: These gnolls are half-demons who act as advisors to tribal leaders. They have darker fur, and their eyes smolder like red coals. They have the ability to cast up to 2nd level priest spells such as spiritual weapon, cure wounds, and cause fear.

Half-Fiend Gnoll Warlock: These are horned, hyena-like humanoid has huge membranous wings and cloven hooves.Yeenoghu is their patron. They produce fiendish offspring to buttress their positions of power.

D&D 4th Edition Monster Manual

4th Edition has tons and tons of new types of gnolls. They came up with a lot of cool ideas that you might want to check out.

4e Gnolls:
  • Decorate their armor and encampments with the bones of their victims.
  • They don't bargain and can't be bribed.
  • Slaves who show strength and savagery might be indoctrinated into the gnoll vanguard.
  • Are mortal instruments of Yeenoghu. They scour the land in his name, and fight among themselves. They participate in rituals that involve acts of depravity and self-mutilation.
Gnoll Huntmaster: Gnoll archers, longbow experts.

Gnoll Claw Fighter: Frenzied gnolls that run around the battlefield, slashing at all enemies.

Gnoll Marauder: Fight tactically with spears alongside allies.

Gnoll Demonic Scourge: Commands other gnolls.

Monster Manual 2

More new types of gnolls!

Deathpledged Gnoll: Vow to die destroying the enemies of Yeenoghu. They fight with bone claws and when they are dropped to 0 hit points, they can keep fighting for another round.

Fang of Yeenoghu: They wield cudgels of bloody teeth. They earn their place in the ranks by capturing slaves and sending them to serve Yeenoghu in the Abyss. The cudgel of bloody teeth continually oozes fresh blood and spittle. When the fang dies, the cudgel quickly rots away. The teeth are from gnolls who died fighting for Yeenoghu. When in death, they can taste the blood of their enemies.

Gnoll Gorger: Gain strength in battle by feasting on their own kind (they heal when they harm an ally). They draw strength from the blood of their own kin.

Allies: Gnolls are known to work with corruption corpses and beholder gauths.

Monster Manual 3

"Accounts from the hollow-eyed survivors of gnoll raids paint a similar picture of death and destruction."

We learn that packs of gnolls war against each other constantly. Victors sometimes enslave the losers.
The Chosen of Yeenoghu are seers and mystics of a pack.

Gnoll Skulker: Runts of the gnoll bloodline. Lurk at the edge of the fray. Very skilled at hiding and ambushing. Like to snipe from a distance and swiftly move to another location.

Gnoll War Fang: Clad in heavy armor scarred with demonic sigils, champions of Yeenoghu who issue challenges.

Chosen of Yeenoghu: Wretched figures bent with age and cloaked in moldering humanoid skins. Can summon undead hyenas!
  • Call Beyond the Grave: Summons 4 hyena spirits. Chosen takes damage when a spirit is slain.
  • Hyena spirits are bound to a tribe by dark magic, continuing to fight alongside them after death. Spectral jaws slow enemies.
  • Shoots bolts of ruination that can teleport hyena spirits around.  
Monster Vault

We get some gnoll factoids:
  • Gnolls attack communities along the borderlands without warning and slaughter without mercy.
  • Gnolls follow Yeenoghu's edicts without question.
  • They are nomadic, wandering and laying waste when they can.
  • Slaves follow behind their raiders to haul their tents and goods. Their only hope to live is to show strength and obey.
Disease: Slavering Canker:-1 to hit, you gain less from healing, you become weakened and must rest twice as long as normal.

Deathpledged Gnoll: Keeps fighting after dropping to 1 hp until the next round.

Gnoll Blood Caller: Blood Call is a psychic attack that sends creatures hurtling backward.

Fang of Yeenoghu: Wields the Cudgel of Bloody Teeth, can unleash the howl of the demon (which lets allies make an attack).

Demon-Eye Gnoll: It has an aura that can cause enemies to attack each other. Fights with a glaive.

Gnoll Far Fang: Have fanged bows that fire hungry arrows that cause ongoing damage.

Gnoll Pack Lord: Demonic Frenzy: Makes many attacks that dazes enemies. Pack cackle allows allies to shift.

Gnoll Demon Spawn: Massive brutes that do a lot of damage with their claws.

Gnoll Huntmaster: Archers

Dragon #369 - Gnolls: The Get of Yeenoghu

This article has a few new categories of gnolls. They are split between two sub-types: Beast-Born Gnolls, Havoc Gnolls, and Ruin-Touched Gnolls.

Beast-Born Gnolls: These gnolls were transformed by Yeenoghu into bestial variants.

Cackling Marauders: Their jaws hang open and crooked. With every breath, a high-pitched cackle emerges from the wretched beast's maw. They are psychotic killers driven by a burning madness. Yeenoghu expects the gnolls to drive marauders out of their ranks without slaying them, so that they may terrorize others. Their cackle causes fear. Their bite is poisonous

Abyssal Slaughter-Lord: As tall as an ogre, these gnolls have arms and legs that are repulsively long. Their whole deal is that they have reach.

Hound of Yeenoghu: These creatures look like hyenas and are used as hunting hounds. The appearance of a beast-born within a tribe is considered both a gift and a test.

Havoc Gnolls: Havoc gnolls are shorter and broader than others of their kind because they are descended from great gnoll champions. They consider themselves better than common gnolls.

Havoc Gnoll Prey-Taker: They can leap extremely far. They have nets that they use to immobilize enemies.

Havoc Gnoll Tribal Champion: They specialize in tripping foes. They like to fight the most dangerous enemies in a battle.

Ruin-Touched Gnolls: Fanatacs who subject themselves to potent rituals that grant them demonic supernatural gifts. The souls of the ruin-touched who die in battle instantly join Yeenoghu in the Abyss.

Beastcallers: These fork-tongued gnolls can summon flocks of ravens who blind enemies or vermin from beneath the earth.

Bloodwalker: They wield sickles and can teleport to areas where there is spilled blood. Bloodwalker  emit red tears, saliva and sweat. 

Slaughterfang Hyena: These creatures are the size of a small horse. Bred by gnolls to serve as mounts, they have piercings and ceremonial scars.

Dungeon Magazine #160 - Den of the Destroyer

The adventurers must go take out some gnoll mercenaries known as the "Wicked Fang" who live in an Fortress Graytone, and abandoned githzerai shrine.

In the final battle, a "Claw of Yeenoghu" reaches through the portal and attacks the group. The claw is described as a "...massive clawed hand of primordial elemental energy..." If it hits, it grabs you and does fire and necrotic damage until you escape.

Fangren: The gnoll leader. He became convinced that he was a Chosen of Yeenoghu and gathered components for a ritual that would infuse him with power. This involves opening an energy conduit to the Abyss.


Lots of new gnoll-related monsters:

Stonewalker Spirit: Yeenoghu sent this thing to help the Wicked Fang. It is a wispy entity that can turn you into a statue and then possess you! In the adventure, it possesses a statue, animates, and attacks.

Abyssal Wretch: Fangren used energy from the planar breach to transform captive humans and elves into horrific reflections of their original forms, tainted by the evil of Yeenoghu. These wretches could "inspire revulsion", hitting all around them with a psychic attack.

Disciple of Yeenoghu: Gnoll sages who collect the most dark and vile lore pertaining to Yeenoghu. They fight with sacrificial daggers and they can fire "rays of destruction" which do necrotic damage.

There's also a magic item:

Wicked Fang: A shadar kai bad guy made the gnolls a magic longsword called Wicked Fang, a jagged blade permanently stained with the blood of those it has slain. It has the power to cause bloody wounds, which acts as ongoing damage.

Dungeon Magazine #212 - Never Say Die

This adventure actually details a location from the famous White Plume Mountain Map. Dead Gnoll's Eyesocket has a hill that looks like a gnoll's head that has water trickling from its eye socket.

Gnolls have laid claim to a network of caves beneath the hill. They capture humanoids and hunt them for sport in a nearby briar maze called the Twisted Thickets.

Good gnoll flavor text: "A mangy gnoll with matted fur and milky white eyes rises to his full 7 feet of height and snarls."

There's a cool location known as "Yeenoghu's Gullet." It has a stone idol that bears an uncanny resemblance to an emaciated gnoll sitting cross-legged.

Near the idol is a pit full of bones. If people take the two gem eyes from the idol, the bones assemble into gnoll forms and attack.

Blackfang Feaster: The bite of these gnolls has poison that can slow you. They can also knock you prone and begin to devour you.

Dungeon Magazine #221 - The Battle of Emridy Meadows

This adventure is written by Chris Perkins. It appears in the final issue of Dungeon and it details a battle discussed quite a bit in the classic 1st edition Temple of Elemental Evil adventure by Gary Gygax.

This module is broken up into missions. The first mission involves dealing with a gnoll called Gnaragg the Dog King and his lair.

Gnaragg actually rides a displacer beast! He is in charge of a band of gnolls and humans who aren't getting along.

Norghu: Gnaragg's mate. She is a pack lord who rule the lair when Gnaragg is not around.

Gnaragg has a magic item:

Bitbaern's Shield: You can ue this +1 shield to sense which way is east. Also, "...the shield can lead you to places of significant history," including the final resting place of Bitbaern, who was a hero of some renown.

D&D 5th Edition - Monster Manual


5th puts it all together quite nicely.

How Gnolls Came to Be: Yeenoghu entered the Material Plane. Packs of hyena flocked to him, scavenging his kills, which transformed them into gnolls.
  • They scavenge trophies from corpses like teeth or ears.
  • Gnolls have no goodness or compassion.
Gnoll Pack Lord: These gnolls rules by might and cunning. They have piercings and they dye demonic sigils into their fur.

Fang of Yeenoghu: This version of the fang are gnolls possessed by a demonic spirit. They perform rituals and make blood offerings to Yeenoghu. A hyena who feasts on a fang's slain foe becomes a full-grown adult gnoll.

Volo's Guide to Monsters

Volo's has a big section on gnoll lore. We learn:
  • Gnolls want to turn the world into a barren, empty ruin.
  • Yeenoghu ultimately wants endless war to be waged in the world until only one champion remains. Then Yeenoghu will come to the world, slay the champion, and reign over a wasteland of rotting corpses.
  • They are driven by a communal sense of infinite hunger and endless rage.
  • When raiding, they never leave survivors. It sounds like the whole slaving angle is gone.
  • Gnolls don't care about gold or gems.
  • They speak a broken form of Abyssal.
There's a bunch of lists, including one with some fun details to add to a gnoll. My favorites:
  • Infested with maggots
  • Vestigial twin embedded in back
Becoming a Gnoll: We learn a bit more on transforming into a gnoll. A fang of yeenoghu anoints the remains of foes during a ritual. When a hyena feeds on those remains, it becomes a gnoll.

Witherlings: This is awesome. When gnolls get hungry, they eat weaker gnolls. The bones of the devoured gnolls are kept. Pack lords and flind can perform a ritual to turn them into undead witherlings.

Flinds: Flinds are rare, and they are seen as Yeenoghu's special messengers. They are.. "gifted with a keen eye for omens and an ear for Yeenoghu's whispers."

If a gnoll kills a flind, it becomes a flind!

Yeenoghu sometimes sends them demon allies: Barlguras, Dretches, Hezrous, and Manes. Also:
  • Shoosuvas: As a reward for triumphs.
  • Maw Demon: Anything a maw demon devours is teleported into Yeenoghu's gullet.
There's a whole page of details on creating war bands. My favorite part is the shared physical traits:
  • Rune branded on forehead
  • Surrounded by clouds of flies
  • "Covered with strange mushroom growths".
Links:

3e Flind from Wizards Site

3 comments:

Peter V. Dell'Orto said...

FWIW, Gnolls and Flinds make some other 1st-edition AD&D appearances:

Fiend Folio has the flind, and that Russ piece you have above.

A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords details a gnoll village and a flind village.

The Gary Gygax novel Artifact of Evil features a fight against a number of gnolls and has some nice descriptions of them and their choices of weaponry.

There might be others but I'm nowhere near my books at this moment. I wanted to post before I forgot to follow up.

eotbeholder said...

My first exposure to gnolls came from the 1991 Black Box D&D set, where they were "rumored to be the result of a magical combination of a gnome and a troll by an evil magic-user".

I can't find the source, but I think Word of Gary has it that the gnoll name (if not the description) came from a Lord Dunsany story (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7477/7477-h/7477-h.htm#HOW_NUTH_WOULD_HAVE_PRACTISED_HIS_ART_UPON_THE_GNOLES). I'm happy with the hyena-folk we ended up with, but emerald-hoarding, tree-infesting tentacle monsters could have been cool too.

John Smith said...

Great write up! Thank you for sharing.