In order to sate the eternal hunger of murderhobos for fresh faces to kill and loot from, Dungeons & Dragons has created many, many different races. The humble Monstrous Humanoids have long made up the bulk of these doomed souls; sapient enough to have plans beyond simply skulking in a hole in the ground and waiting to pounce, yet inhuman enough to be butchered without guilt, they are truly the backbone of the classic hack-and-slash game. Some of these have even surpassed their humble origins, achieving a level of player interest that has sown demands for portrayals beyond sword-fodder roles. Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, even Ogres have all managed to attain a notoriety and a connection with D&Ders that has seen attempts to raise them up from the mud.
And then there are races who haven't been so fortunate. The gnoll is one of them.
Born way back in Basic Dungeons & Dragons - they were actually in the White Box, released back in 1974, gnolls were originally a jokey monster, said to be the result of crossbreeding a gnome with a troll. But, come Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, people realized that this was really too stupid for words, so they were instead changed into a hyena-based beast-man race. They were given a rather slap-dash generic evil humanoid lore, with about the most notably things being a profound laziness that leads to a reliance on slavery, and a particular fondness for cannibalism. Because nothing makes your adventurers feel more heroic than kicking the shit out of people who brutally force others to work for them until they drop and then eat them alive.
Despite all this, gnolls have managed to claw out a niche for themselves in D&D; having been there in every edition, and even in its Pathfinder spin-off, gnolls don't look to be going anywhere anytime soon. And a few settings, most-notably Eberron and Wicked Fantasy, have at least attempted to round them off a little. In particular, Pathfinder has made some attempts to make Gnolls into an Egyptian themed monster, presumably due to the dog head (even though Anubis's head is actually a jackal, not a hyena) and native area of Hyenas while their slaver status allows using the iconic (but now considered historically inaccurate as historians now think the big monuments were built by farmers in the off season) image of a whip cracking Egyptian ordering slaves to build stuff.
Unfortunately, they don't look to getting more mainstream any time soon. The 5e Monster Manual outright says gnolls, unlike other monster races, are just born bad, due to the demonic influence of their creator Yeenoghu. And authors for 5th edition's "Volo's Guide to Monsters", the 5e analogue to a Monster Manual 2/Complete Book of Humanoids hybrid, felt it necessary to explicitly call out that gnolls will not be a PC race option, due to being "too demonic"... despite the fact that they had a PC writeup in the previous edition, which is where they stole the "Gnolls are direct creations of Yeenoghu" lore from. What makes this quite curious is that Gnolls are the only canine-folk race to go anywhere, despite dog men being quite common in real world myth. Exploring Eberron is the only major exception here; Keith Baker flat-out gave them PC stats and an interesting niche.
Pathfinder Second Edition has challenged this decision by WotC, introducing the "Kholo", an array of non-evil gnollish subraces native to their not-Africa region, the Mwangi Expanse, as playable characters
As mentioned above, gnolls, pronounced 'Noll' as the G is silent, are hyena-based beast-men, so they resemble humanoid creatures with clawed fingers and the tails, pelts and heads of hyenas. Exactly which aspect of their physiology dominates, the man or the beast, depends on edition and to an extent on setting; their original AD&D art makes them very humanoid, but later editions have made them more feral, with typically hunched back, longer arms, and shorter legs, leading to a more primal, ape-like body-stance. They also have gone from human-like legs to more digitigrade legs, complete with paws in lieu of feet.
In some settings, such as the Wicked Fantasy setting, it's stated that gnolls can actually move around more quickly and easily on all fours, furthering their "primalness".
Gnolls typically are portrayed with features akin to the spotted hyena, the largest, most aggressive and sociable of hyena species, most notably the pelt coloration. In 3.5's Monster Manual IV, 4e's Playing Gnolls, and Pathfinder's Monster Codex, it's stated that female gnolls are actually larger and more aggressive than males, which is another trait iconic of the spotted hyena.
The Kholo are actually divided into four subraces that visually resemble the four species of hyenas, resulting in Ant Gnolls (Small-sized, based on the Aardwolf), Great Gnolls (obligatory Spotted Hyenas), stripy-colored Sweetbreath Gnolls (based on Striped Hyenas), and brown, shaggy Witch Gnolls (based on the Brown Hyena).
In a word, savage. Gnolls tend to be described as lazy and feral creatures, relying mostly on slavery, banditry and bloody raids to fashion themselves with labor, food and weapons. They're more likely to be described as nocturnal, in recent days, and often their barbarity is tied into their worship of malevolent deities - see Religion below. Cannibalism and scavenging are also huge in their culture, if only because they're both obligate carnivores and shamelessly lazy.
In general, though, they're fairly one-dimensional bad guys, with little characterization beyond basically being bigger, tougher, fuzzier humanoids. About the only exception to their general cookie-cutter evil humanoid fluff is this: despite their propensity towards evil, gnolls are strongly pack-oriented. Whilst they may struggle for position in the pack, to an extent depending on the sourcebook, they always unite together to defend themselves against anyone not in the pack. This doesn't mean all other gnolls are treated as allies however; if you're not directly part of the pack, you're meat, and race has nothing to do with it. Packs sometimes unite to form larger tribes, or rampaging hordes.
In general, character development has tended to pass gnolls by... but not always. Gnolls have actually been playable for a long time, and eventually somebody was bright enough to realize that if this is the case, then a more nuanced depiction is probably in order. This was done in Mystara first, in the Orcs of Thar gazetteer. Then came Champions of Mystara, retconning a whole elf / gnoll mixed society under the Desert of Sind - on par with its other hamfisted retcons.
In 3.5 we got sourcebook "Races of the Wild", which explains that some of the nomadic tribes have turned their backs on their evil nature; these gnolls are described as being akin to the barbaric human tribes of the same regions, with "harsh but fair" moral codes, an extremely strong sense of loyalty ("to name someone your pack-brother is to give them your trust for life"), a love of hunting, a strong sense of curiosity, and a powerful driving wanderlust.
Not a lot of fluff, true, but leaps and bounds better than what they had before. Of course, even before this, the Forgotten Realms had semi-civilized gnolls who had been integrated into the lands of Thay, where they were basically the go-to race for personal guards and even the city watch! And this was all the way back in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition splatbook "Dreams of the Red Wizards".
Eberron, of course, shook things up a lot further. Eberronian gnolls proliferate in the monster kingdom of Droaam, which is dedicated to giving "standard monsters" their own civilization. These gnolls follow the Pact of Znir; a young code of civilization that they collectively agreed to. Casting off their former worship of the Lords of Dust, and cementing their dedication to change by shattering their former clan-totems in a holy gathering spot, the Znir Pact Gnolls make a living for themselves as a culture dedicated to mercenary work; staunchly neutral to the political machinations plaguing the fledgeling nation, and strictly refusing to ever fight each other, the Gnoll Brotherhood essentially forms the primary stabilizing influence of Droaam. In many ways, they're the closest thing that the warlords, clans and tribes of this anarchic domain have to a peacekeeping force, making the gnoll tribes roughly analogous to the Sentinel Marshals maintained by House Deneith. Thanks to their alliances with House Tharashk, Znir gnolls have become increasingly common outside of Droaam as mercenaries, rangers, bounty hunters, wilderness guides and even manual laborers, all of which means that whilst they still make most "humanoids" uneasy, they are accepted in "polite" civilization and becoming increasingly welcome.
But the king of transformations was found, ironically, in 4th edition. Issue #367 of Dragon Magazine featured the article "Playing Gnolls", which gave them the most nuanced depiction they've ever had. This article is based in Nentir Vale lore, but the article's author Keith Baker has confirmed it's valid for Eberron as well outside of the religion section. Describing them as descended from hyenas who had been force-fed fiends by Yeenoghu to create his own race of worshippers, this article portrays gnolls as a race torn between their demonic and their primal aspects; inclined towards savagery, but capable of choosing good. These non-evil gnolls are still inclined towards a tribalistic and often nomadic existence; their strong hyena instincts give them both powerful pack mentality and a natural love of hunting, and as such they're not exactly drawn to the agrarian lifestyle. These strong bestial aspects heavily color most aspects of gnoll society.
For example, whilst intensely loyal to their kith and kin, and hating to be alone, gnolls are also a hierarchy-driven race who feel driven to assert themselves in order to establish just where they fit into the pecking order. This makes gnolls seems rather aggressive to more "civilized" races, as they consider intimidation to be less an inherently hostile act and more part of the natural flow of social interaction. For example, a gnoll would never make a request when instead a demand or a firm statement is reasonable - "What do you want?" instead of "Can I help you?" This doesn't make them any less strong team players, and they will always set aside thoughts of personal glory in favor of helping their comrades, it just means that they also find it important to establish a clear line of dominance.
Another example of their bestial impulses is that their scavenger's instincts manifest particularly as a love of taking trophies to remember great achievements or worthy foes by. This can be everything from taking direct pieces of a fallen foe (horns, teeth, claws, weapons) to more abstract; a gnoll may carry small strips of cloth used to dab up the blood of worthy kills, so she can sniff the blood and let it remind her of how she won them, or she may take pieces of their armor and attach it to her own.
In the Nentir Vale, gnolls who choose not to run with "the Butcher's Brood" (Yeenoghu's loyalists) usually turn to worshipping the Primal Spirits, but may also chose deities that they find particularly appropriate, such as Melora, Kord, and the Raven Queen. They're also matrilinear and egalitarian, following the leadership of the strongest gnoll in the clan regardless of their sex - and in many clans, it's the women who grow bigger and stronger than the men. It's implied these aspects even hold true for the demon-worshipping gnolls.
All in all, this 4e article really provided a deep and invested look at gnollish culture, really making them stand out as a race that can be used for PCs, allies and enemies alike.
Like almost all good things in 4e, 5e reset the status quo and returned the Gnolls to their AD&D roots as a "monster race", trying to make them stand out from the other evil humanoids by focusing intensely on their demonic taint. Gnolls are freakish abominations in 5e, originally born from hyenas that mutated by scavenging from the kills of Yeenoghu, they don't even breed on their own in this edition, instead spawning from within flesh-gorged hyenas that accompany their packs. They're so tainted by their demonic lineage that not only are they prone to grotesque mutations, such as sprouting vestigial twins or mushrooms or maggots from their flesh, drooling caustic slime, or possessing black fangs or glowing eyes, but their fiendish presence actually causes supernatural evils to manifest in communities ahead of them. In fact, according to Volo's Guide to Monsters, each and every gnoll has a direct mental link to Yeenoghu's endless hunger, and what little sapience it has revolves entirely around the desperate mad need to feed its progenitor through carnage and consumption. However, in the Out of the Abyss adventure, there are a few helpful gnoll characters that the player can run into, though for one of them the explanation for why he isn't evil is because he has a form of madness and will immediately turn evil again if the players cure him.
One of the oddest interpretations of gnoll culture can probably be found in the Dach'youn of Wicked Fantasy, which runs off of Pathfinder rules. These gnolls are a relatively peaceful Stone Age tribal culture with a heavy focus on the collective good. Rarely gathering in groups bigger than a dozen, the dach'youn are led by a pack alpha and beta (usually male and female, respectively, although skill matters more to them than gender). That said, they are matrilinear, tracing descent through the mother - this is because they don't practice monogamy, so a new mother has no way of knowing which of the many males she banged at the last ou'chala (a celebration-based meeting of packs that occurs every 90 days, which is when dach'youn seek sexual partners) actually knocked her up. They are nocturnal, shunning the sun as a cruel and evil god who wants to wipe out all life, and worshipping the six moons of their world as benevolent and caring protective goddesses. Also, they really, really love mud baths, as much for the sheer fun of slopping around in the mud as for the practicality that it keeps them cool and kills parasites that might be infesting their fur.
In Pathfinder 2e, the Kholo of the Mwangi Expanse are an array of non-evil gnollish tribes and clans who are as civilized as anyone else around them. However, their cultural values of pragmatism over honor (so they favor ambushes, tactical feints, and psychological warfare) and ancestor worship through endocannibalism (that is, they eat the dead as a sign of resepct) alienate even their neighbors, so they're not exactly popular even in the Expanse. Kholo typically have an unsentimental, matter-of-fact approach to life, and prioritize results over methods. They are usually loyal and generous to their people and ruthless toward outsiders. Culturally, they tend to be very physically demonstrative, especially with their friends. A typical kholo community, or clan, is made up of 100 to 200 gnolls divided between 10-20 interrelated family groups. They are a matriarchal gerontocracy, being led by a council made up of the oldest females from each family, with one appointed from amongst their ranks to serve as "Chief Elder", the first amongst equals. This council is also guided by a Bonekeeper (usually a witch), who serves as a voice for the gods and ancestor spirits, and by a Storyteller (bard), who serves as teacher, sage, historian and general encylopedia of lore. Newborn kholo are given a root name, typically that of a bone, plant, or animal (though never Hyena, as this is considered narcissistic and arrogant). As a gnoll reaches certain milestones in life, they add descriptors to their name. Root names are often passed down through families, while descriptors are chosen to fit the gnoll's personality, usually in raucous ceremonies.
Gnolls have had an erratic, shifting field of lore when it comes to gender roles.
To begin with, in AD&D, they were given the same "abusively patriarchal" fluff as just about every other evil tribal humanoid race (orcs, goblins, etc) - which, as anyone who's read up on hyenas knows, is bollocks; spotted hyenas are abusively matriarchal, the other pack species being more egalitarian. This was impolitely pointed out to the designers by the autists in rec.games.frp.dnd throughout the 1990s.
In 3rd edition, the topic wasn't really mentioned, until the Monster Manual IV presented a far more in-depth approach to gnollish ecology and society. This source stated that gnolls are actually matriarchal, and that the pack is always ruled by an alpha female. Rank is still based on the principle of "might makes right", and males can hold any high rank that isn't absolute ruler, but males will usually face more frequent challenges, and females are physically superior - averaging about half a foot in height and fifty pounds in weight on their menfolk.
4th edition states that gnolls are matrilinear (descent is traced through the mother), but egalitarian; males and females do just about everything the same, and leadership depends on strength rather than what's between their legs. That said, it also notes that in many clans, female gnolls are the larger gender, which gives an inferral that many clans function in an incidental matriarchal fashion by simple "rule of might". In fact, the entry, given its distinctive title of "Gender Issues", reads as follows:
- The physical build of a female gnoll is almost identical to that of its male counterpart, and in many clans the females are larger than the males. As a rule, it is difficult for a member of another race to tell the gender of a gnoll unless it’s pregnant or actively nursing. Females and males are equally aggressive, and both males and females actively take part in hunting. Although the leader of the clan is typically the strongest gnoll (male or female), lineage is usually traced through the mother. Because of the difficulty involved in identifying the gender of a gnoll, there are folktales based around the idea that gnolls are hermaphrodites or can change their gender; however, neither of these things are true.
Weirdly, Pathfinder has flip-flopped on the issue, despite changing the gnoll's primary religion from Yeenoghu to Lamashtu (largely due to the fact that the former is exclusive intellectual property of WoTC.) In the early sourcebook "Classic Monsters Revisited", gnolls are very much patriarchal; a female gnoll who fails to become either a mother or a cleric of Lamashtu by age 15 is eaten, whilst all a male gnoll has to do to prove worthy of life is to have brought back at least 20 pounds of meat by the age of 12. Whilst sexually desirable (to other gnolls), Lamashtu clerics are also politically inferior to the (male-exclusive) shamans. Then, in the later "Monster Codex", we're told that gnolls are matriarchal, in no small part because their larger stature and greater aggression & cunning gives them an edge in their cutthroat might-makes-right culture; this is seen as proof of Lamashtu's blessing of the gnoll race.
This decision to support gnollish matriarchy was reaffirmed with the Lost Omens: Mwangi Expanse splatbook for 2e. Here, it's stated that the gnoll races of the Expanse, regardless of subrace, all have notably larger females (averaging about a head taller) and a "realistic Amazon" type matriarchal culture: women are the hunters, warriors and leaders, whilst men are the artisans, caretakers and gatherers. However, either gender can become a bonekeeper or a storyteller, and the book also hedges its bets by noting that adherence to these gender roles varies from clan to clan.
In Dungeons & Dragons, gnolls traditionally worship a Demon Prince named Yeenoghu, the Beast of Butchery. In the earliest editions, they originally worshiped the god Gorellik, a giant hyena-like lesser member of the Giant's pantheon, but not only could he not claim to be their creator,(who is, is never explained) he was such a lazy, disinterested, stupid god that Yeenoghu was able to steal the gnolls away from him and he never even noticed. In 4th and 5th edition, gnolls were directly tied to Yeenoghu and given status as his creations; a fusion of demon and hyena that he engineered in 4e, and hyenas that spontaneously transformed after scavenging from his kills in 5e. This, incidentally, also gives them a religiously motivated hatred for minotaurs, as their patron Demon Prince, Baphomet, is a bitter rival of Yeenoghu's.
Some obscure fluff in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons says that the gnolls once had their own pantheon, but their gods have perished. The only other gnollish deity ever named in D&D history was Refnara the Moon-Biter, a gnollish lunar goddess with provenance over fear who only made a single appearance; in the adventure “To Bite the Moon” in Dungeon Magazine #48.
In 3.5's MMIV, it's stated that the gnolls reconcile worshipping a male Demon Prince with their own principles of matriarchal leadership in that the female pack-leaders view Yeenoghu as the ultimate male, the perfect mate for a female gnoll to acquire - IF she can prove herself worthy.
In Pathfinder, gnolls worship Lamashtu, a Demon Prince turned full-fledged evil goddess of monsters, mutations and misbirths, who they claim literally gave birth to them. Ironically, this leads to them having better relationships with minotaurs, who also claim to be children of Lamashtu. In Pathfinder Second Edition, the kholo are cemented as the Non-Evil Gnoll Culture by rejecting Lamashtu - called "Old Mother" by the kholo, she is invoked only as a very last resort, and otherwise begged to stay away. Instead, the kholo largely practice ancestor worship, but also revere a small pantheon; Calistria and Shelyn are revered as Elder and Younger Sisters, the twin goddesses of power and beauty, whilst Nethys is revered as The Brother, patron of the bonekeepers.
In Wicked Fantasy, dach'youn fear the sun as a creator god who, alongside his nameless wife, created the world and all life, but then grew angry with them and now wants to destroy the world, having murdered his wife when she tried to stop him. Consequently, they refuse to honor him, instead regarding him as a cruel and merciless monster to be feared. Instead, they worship the moons as a set of six or seven (there's actually only six moons, but many gnolls believe that the "moonless nights" that occur every 85 days are actually guarded by a black moon) goddesses; these Kachta, the sun's daughters, angrily chase him away every night, forestalling his plans to destroy the world each day. The Sister Moons are Cha'ppa (The Swift Red Moon), Hav'ha (The Deadly Silver Moon), Gu'sha (The Wise Blue Moon), Gur'gha (The Enduring Green Moon), Or'gha (The Cunning Yellow Moon), Sh'va (The Lovely Violet Moon) and Vax (The Black Moon).
Perhaps the largest, most complicated and arguably most interesting gnollish religion can be found in Midgard. Here, whilst the gnolls of the Southlands can potentially worship any of the deities of that realm, there are a number of faiths particularly associated with gnolls. The largest gnoll faiths are those who have become central to the political power structure of the gnollish "nation" of Dabu: these consist of Bastet, who is regarded as the patron goddess of all gnolls (and this isn't as weird as you'd think; despite their vaguely doggy looks, hyenas are more closely related to cats); Bastet's consort Anu-Akma (whose connection to Anubis is the stuff of much debate); the Yeenoghu-equivalent Laughing Nkishi (who wants to become a monotheistic patron god to the gnolls, but is facing an uphill struggle against the other faiths of Dabu); The Huntress (The Hunter envisioned as a female gnoll, because Southland gnolls are matriarchal); and Xeviosah (who is to Xevioso what the Huntress is to the Hunter). Other popular patron gods for Southlands gnolls include the trickster-god Kwansi, Veles by its local name of Djyy, the war god Takhar, the archdevil Arbeyach, and the raider goddess Selket.
Though usually ignored, there are a few different branches of the family tree.
Flinds are the most well-known branch, having appeared in the editions on and off throughout the years. Originally introduced for AD&D 1e as part of the Fiend Folio, Flinds were conceived of as smaller and less imposing, but smarter, gnoll-kin. In this edition, Flinds looked like lions instead of hyenas. They were the more rational and reasonable gnoll-kin, and had a dedicated Dragon Magazine article, "The Sociology of the Flind", in issue #173. They're mostly remembered for being cannibalistic ("flind" apparently means "eater of gnolls" in the gnoll tongue) and for wielding solid-iron nunchuks called "flindbars", which gave them the aggravatingly cheap ability to force your PCs to save vs. wands in AD&D to avoid having their weapons yanked out of their hands. When 3rd edition rolled around, flinds didn't reappear until the Monster Manual 3, where their character was reversed - they became bigger, stronger, tougher and even nastier versions of the common gnoll, although they were still smarter. 4th edition preserved this, although it obscured their return in Dragon #369 as the "Havoc Gnolls". In 5th edition, flinds didn't appear until Volo's Guide to Monsters, where they essentialy became the gnollish equivalent of Blackguards; demon-blessed champions of Yeenoghu specially selected to lead gnollish warbands.
Ghuuna are a gnollish therianthrope subspecies introduced in Dragon #89, gifted with the power to turn into hyenadons (or dire hyenas, in more modern interpretations); they could spread this amongst their own race like lycanthropy, but rarely did so, as they revelled in being special. Ghuunas never really caught on.
Shoosuva are undead demons born from gnollish souls, who first appeared in Dragon #63 - as part of the very first elaboration on gnollish culture and mentality. They are described as resembling huge, emaciated hyenadons glowing with eerie yellow light, and possess ghoul-like abilities, such as paralytic attacks. They mostly went ignored afterwards; a 3e translation finally arrived in Dungeon Magazine #112. Volo's Guide to Monsters saw them promoted to their first ever official splatbook appearance, although with a few tweaks - like the loss of their paralytic attacks in favor of a toxic tail stinger.
The kholo clans of the Mwangi Expanse have the most notable split, being divided into four subraces based on the four species of hyena.
- Ant Gnolls are based on Aardwolves. These insect-hunting gnolls are often disbelieved by foreigners as actually being gnollkin whatsoever, since they average at only three feet tall!
- Great Gnolls are the obligatory Spotted Hyena gnollkin. The largest, strongest and most aggressive of the kholo subraces, it's implied that the gnolls of other lands in Golarion are Great Gnolls who migrated out of the Mwangi Expanse and then lost their way, falling into the clutches of the cult of Lamashtu.
- Sweetbreath Gnolls are based on the Striped Hyena, and in particular that hyena's association with sexual magics in African folklore (with maybe a dash of the Roman view of hyenas as vampires). Aside from their distinct striped fur patterns, they are also distinguished by their mystically imbued sweet-smelling breath, which can enthrall prey.
- Witch Gnolls are based on the Brown Hyena, and seem to have absorbed the more mystical associations of hyenas, specifically the idea of hyenas imitating voices to lure victims to their doom. They are distinguished by their dark brown, shaggy-furred pelts and their ability to produce "truly uncanny" sounds, most notably by mimicking the voices of others.
Given the dearth of details on gnollish culture, and the rather limited focus of what we're told, it should be of no surprise that we don't know much of how gnolls produce the next generation.
In AD&D's Monstrous Manual, we are informed that in a gnoll pack there will be "half as many females as males" and "twice as many gnoll pups as there are adults".
In 3.5's Monster Manual IV, we get some fuller details; female gnolls mate with any male that catches their attention as a worthy specimen (whether the male's thoughts on the matter are taken into account are not stated), but form no lasting bonds. They give birth to litters of 2-4 pups after a 6 month pregnancy, and usually these are then abandoned to the care of wetnurses and slaves in the pack's current creche. Infant gnolls are utterly helpless for the first 8 weeks of their life, doing little but suckle and sleep, but after that two month infancy, begin to drastically grow, putting on muscle and weaning to feed on meat. Still, whilst kept separate from the suckling pups, these youngsters are kept segregated for the first two years of their life; until they hit adolescence at that age, they risk being cannibalized by the adult gnolls.
Pathfinder's "Classic Monsters Revisited" states that gnolls give birth to litters of 3-5 pups, who become "dangerous" by 3 years old and fully grown adults by the age of 8; female gnolls become reproductively mature at any point between the ages of 10 and 18 years.
4e's "Playing Gnolls" mentions only that gnoll pups become aggressive at a very young age - as in, as soon as they can walk, they tend to find tight places where they can viciously fight each other, and that the high infant mortality rate these battles (which are often fought to the death, or just inflict such severe wounds that one or more participants die) inflict is partly why gnolls aren't as common as, say, orcs.
In 5e, gnolls don't reproduce at all. Their shamans, the Fangs of Yeenoghu, can inflict a demonic taint upon the corpses of sapient beings; hyenas that devour such corpses are transformed into new gnolls. Thus, they are constantly seeking battle in order to replace their own casualties.
Gnolls have had playable stats in 1e (via The Orcs of Thar, though that may have been during their "gnome-troll" days), AD&D (via the Complete Book of Humanoids), D&D 3e (via the Monster Manual, Races of the Wild, Unapproachable East and Savage Species) and 4e (via Dragon Magazine #367). Flinds had playable stats in only AD&D (CBoH) and D&D3.5 (MM3).
- Gnoll Ability Modifiers: +1 Strength, +1 Dexterity, -2 Wisdom
- Gnoll Minimum Strength: 13
- Note: Like all Humanoids from "The Orcs of Thar", a Gnoll has racial ability score caps of 18 in all scores bar Intelligence and Wisdom, which are capped at 16.
- Note: Like all Humanoids from "The Orcs of Thar", a Gnoll determines its Charisma score for interacting with humans and demihumans by dividing its Charisma score by 3 (rounding down) and subtacting the result from 9.
- Gnoll Natural Armor Class: 8
- Can become Shamans (6th level) and Wokani (4th level).
|Gnoll's's level||XP Required||Gnoll's hit dice|
|9||519,000||+2 Hit Points|
|Subsequent||300,000||+2 Hit Points|
If the above doesn't tickle your fancy, you can try playing a Gruugrakh Gnoll, a gnoll originating from the land of Graakhalia, a kingdom in the caverns beneath the Plain of Fire. In this land of dangerous creatures, harsh landscapes and deadly plants, which may have its origins with the ancient efforts of the ancestral Shadow Elves to survive the Great Rain of Fire, gnolls have formed a long-term alliance with elves of the Sheyallia tribe, rising to a strict, honorable level of civilization. In fact, they have advanced so far that they even have developed an innate affinity for magic!
Thus, to play a Gruugrakh Gnoll, use the Elf class, save for the following changes:
Alternatively, you can just use the gnoll stats above, but Gruugrakh gnolls are twice as likely to become spellcasters compared to standard gnolls (1 in 10 vs 1 in 20), so becoming a Shaman, a Wokani, or a dual-classed Shaman-Wokani, is perfectly justified for a PC.
Gruugrakh Gnolls appeared in the box set "Champions of Mystara" for BECMI. Specifically, they're covered in the Explorer's Manual splatbook that comes with that boxed set.
- Ability Score Modifiers: +1 Strength, -1 Dexterity
- Ability Score Minimums and Maximums: Minimum Strength of 6, Minimum Dexterity of 5, Minimum Constitution of 5, Maximum Intelligence of 14, Maximum Wisdom of 16, Maximum Charisma of 14
- Hit Point Modifier: +2 HP at first level
- Natural Armor Class: 10
- Special Disadvantage: Gnolls take damage as Large creatures
- Monstrous Traits: Appearance, Bestial Habits
- Weapon Proficiencies: Battle-Axe, Long Composite Bow, Morningstar, Two-handed Sword, Any Polearm
- Non Weapon Proficiencies: Animal Training (Hyenodon), Close-Quarter Fighting, Hiding, Hunting, Observation, Tracking, Wild Fighting
- Ability Score Modifiers: +1 Strength, -1 Charisma
- Ability Score Minimums and Maximums: Minimum Strength of 8, Minimum Dexterity of 6, Minimum Constitution of 6, Maximum Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma of 16.
- Natural Armor Class: 10
- Special Advantage: When wielding a Flindbar, enemies hit must make a Save vs. Wands; failure means their weapon is entangled and yanked out of their grip.
- Monstrous Traits: Appearance, Bestial Habits
- Weapon Proficiencies: Club, Flindbar, Glaive, Long Bow, Long Sword
- Non Weapon Proficiencies: Animal Lore, Close-Quarter Fighting, Danger Sense, Direction Sense, Endurance, Fortune Telling, Local History, Looting, Hunting, Intimidation, Reading/Writing, Religion, Spellcraft, Weaponsmithing
- Ability Score Modifiers: Strength +4, Constitution +2, Intelligence -2, Charisma -2
- Size: Medium
- Base Land Speed: 30 feet
- Racial Hit Dice: two levels of humanoid, which gives 2D8 HD, BAB +1, Fort +3, Ref +0 and Will +0.
- Racial Skills: 5*(2+Int modifier), class skills are Listen and Spot.
- Racial Feats: 1 feat of choice.
- +1 Natural Armor Bonus
- Darkvision 60 feet
- Favored Class: Ranger
- Level Adjustment: +1 level.
- Ability Score Modifiers: +6 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +4 Constitution
- Size: Medium
- Base Land Speed: 30 feet
- Racial Hit Dice: two levels of humanoid, which gives 2D8 HD, BAB +1, Fort +3, Ref +0 and Will +0.
- Racial Skills: 5*(2+Int modifier), class skills are Listen and Spot.
- Racial Feats: 1 feat of choice.
- +2 Natural Armor Bonus
- Darkvision 60 feet
- Weapon Familiarity (Flindbar) - Flindbars are Martial weapons for Flinds, rather than Exotic.
- Flinds receive a +2 racial bonus to Charisma checks made to influence Gnolls.
- Favored Class: Ranger
- Level Adjustment: +2 levels.
- Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, +2 Dexterity
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 7 squares
- Vision: Low-light
- Languages: Abyssal, Common
- Skill Bonuses: +2 Intimidate, +2 Perception
- Blood Fury: While you’re bloodied, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls. This increases to a +4 bonus at 21st level.
- Pack Attack: You deal an extra 2 damage on melee attacks against an enemy that has two or more of your allies adjacent to it.
- Ferocious Charge: You can use ferocious charge as an encounter power.
Ferocious Charge Gnoll Racial Power
- You lunge toward the enemy and, with a tirade of curses, unleash the wrath of Yeenoghu upon your hapless foe.
- Standard Action Personal
- Effect: You charge, and deal an extra 2 damage on a successful attack. Increase the extra damage to 4 at 11th level and 6 at 21st level. If you are bloodied, double the extra damage and gain an equal number of temporary hitpoints.
Heroic Tier Feats Any feat in the following section is available to a character of any level who meets the prerequisites.
- Prerequisite: Gnoll
- Benefit: You can use ghost sound as an at-will ability and gain a +2 feat bonus to Bluff checks when using ghost sound to mimic specific people or sounds.
- Prerequisite: Gnoll
- Benefit: You receive a +4 feat bonus to saving throws against poison and Endurance checks made to resist disease.
- Prerequisite: Gnoll
- Benefit: You possess vicious claws, which you can use as weapons with a +3 proficiency bonus and 1d6 damage. For purpose of powers and feats, you can treat your claws as light blades, and you are considered to have a weapon in each hand. You cannot enchant your claws.
- Prerequisite: Gnoll
- Benefit: You gain a +5 feat bonus to Perception checks made to track and to Insight checks made to penetrate an illusion or disguise. You can use this bonus during a skill challenge if you can convince the DM that scent is relevant to the check.
Paragon Feats Any feat in the following section is available to a character of 11th level or higher who meets the prerequisites.
- Prerequisites: 11th level, gnoll, ferocious charge racial power
- Benefit: When you use your ferocious charge power, you can choose to make an at-will melee attack instead of a melee basic attack.
- Prerequisite: 11th level, gnoll
- Benefit: When you bloody a foe, you can choose to deal an extra 1d6 + Strength modifier damage with a bite against the target.
Epic Feats The feat in the following section is available to a character of 21st level or higher who meets the prerequisites.
- Prerequisites: 21st level, gnoll, ferocious charge racial power, Fierce Charge
- Benefit: When you use your ferocious charge power, you can choose to make an encounter melee attack power instead of a melee basic attack.
While 5e as a whole has abandoned PC friendly concepts for gnolls, the Exploring Eberron quasi-official supplement to the Rising from the Last War sourcebook has reintroduced them as a player race, and with a player-friendly culture; both fit the Eberron setting's overall themes of culture and upbringing mattering more for alignment than race. Eberron Gnolls are still demon-spawn and tend to be evil, but they have more freedom from their hellish creators because they were created by two competing Overlords accidentally, not by one demon prince intentionally, and both of those Overlords are imprisoned and "sleeping" (Cthulhu-style, so they manage to corrupt people even in their sleep) instead of actively whispering in their ears like Yennogu does in main DnD settings. PC gnolls are supposed to be part of the Zinr Pact - a group of 12 tribes who decided to abandon demon worshiping (or really any religion) and be Lawful Evil to a T, being badass mercenaries known for never betraying their employers unless said employers broke the letter of the contract first. They're so trustworthy and reliable, the nation of Droaam hires a full half of Zinr Pact gnolls themselves as pretty much their police force.
- Ability Score Increase: Your Constitution score increases by 1. In addition, either your Strength or Dexterity score increases by 2.
- Age: Young gnolls grow with uncanny speed. A gnoll is capable of fending for itself after only a few months, and is considered an adult at 5 years of age. Gnolls live to be around 30 years old. They remain vigorous until the end; death by old age is marked by a catastrophic decline over a space of a few days. Many believe this unusual lifecycle is tied to the supernatural origins of the gnoll.
- Size: Gnolls are between 7 and 8 feet tall and weigh between 250 to 320 pounds. Your size is Medium.
- Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
- Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
- Bite: Your teeth are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with your bite, you deal piercing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
- Hunter’s Senses: You gain proficiency with one of the following skills of your choice: Perception, Stealth or Survival.
- Rampage: On your turn, when you make an unarmed strike using your bite attack or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with an attack, you can use a bonus action to move up to half your speed and make a weapon attack or bite attack.
- Languages: You can speak, read, and write Gnoll, and your choice of either Common or Goblin.
3rd Party Settings
- Ability Score Increase: +2 Strength
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 30 feet
- Darkvision: 60 feet
- Scent: You have Advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks based on smell.
- Bully: You have Disadvantage on saves against being Frightened, but can apply double your Proficiency bonus to Charisma (Intimidation) checks made against creatures obviously smaller and/or weaker than you.
- Live to Fight Another Day: When you take the Disengage action, your base walking speed is increased by +10 feet.
- Gnoll Weapon Training: You have Proficiency with the Spear, Shortbow, Longbow, Light Crossbow and Heavy Crossbow.
- Subrace: Choose the Civilized Gnoll or Savage Gnoll subrace.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Constitution
- Obsequious: When interacting with creatures obviously bigger and/or more powerful than you, you may apply double your Proficiency bonus to Charisma (Persuasion) checks.
- Ability Score Increase: +1 Wisdom
- Scavenge: You can apply double your Proficiency bonus when making Wisdom (Survival) checks for the purpose of gathering good and locating water.
- Hit Points: 8
- Size: Medium
- Speed: 30 feet
- Ability Boosts: Strength, Intelligence, Free
- Ability Flaws: Wisdom
- Low-Light Vision
- Bite: You have a Jaws Attack (Brawling, Unarmed) that deals 1d6 Piercing damage.
Ant Gnoll Heritage: Free Training in Deception. +1 Circumstance bonus to Deception checks made to falsely claim innocence, to Deception DCs against Sense Motive checks made to uncover such lies, and to Initiative checks made by using Deception.
Great Gnoll Heritage: +2 Hit Points from Ancestry (so +10 total), +1 Circumstance bonus to Athletics checks made to Shove or Trip.
Sweetbreath Gnoll Heritage: Free Training in Diplomacy. +1 Circumstance Bonus to Make an Impression iof the target can smell your breath. Can take the Heritage Feat Breath Like Honey: You can cast enthrall as a 3rd-level occult innate spell once per day, except the spell has a range of 30 feet and the inhaled trait instead of the auditory trait. Targets don't gain any circumstance bonus for disagreeing with you. Your circumstance bonus to checks to Make an Impression if the target can smell your breath increases to +2.
Witch Gnoll Heritage: You can cast Ghost Sound as an occult innate spell at will, with a spell level equal to half your level rounded up. +1 Circumstance bonus to Impersonate and Create a Diversion checks made using only your voice. Can take the Heritage Feat Distant Cackle, which lets you cast Ventriloquism once per day as a 1st-level occult innate spell.
3rd Party Settings
- +2 Constitution, +2 Charisma
- Movement: Dach'youn can either walk on their hindlegs for a base movement speed of 30 feet, or run on all fours for a base movement sped of 40 feet. Four-legged speed can't be used unless the dach'youn has her hands empty.
- Scent (Extraordinary Ability)
- Pack Feats: A dach'youn starts with three Pack category feats, and gains one new Pack feat at 2nd level and every two levels afterwards (4th, 6th, 8th, etc).
- Pack Tactics: When a dach'youn uses a teamwork feat, every member of her pack gains the benefits of it.
- Ways of the Wild: Survival is always a class skill for dach'youn, and they receive a +1 bonus to Survival, Knowledge (Nature) and Wild Empathy checks. This bonus increases by a further +1 at every 5th level (so levels 5, 10, 15, 20).
- Moon Sign: All dach'youn are born under the gaze of one of the Kachta, and this influences them. Pick a specific Moon Sign from the list below; this increases or alters your ability score bonus as indicated and gives you both a Moon Blessing (a special bonus you gain when your moon is full) and a Moon Curse (a special penalty you suffer when your moon is new).
- Scavenger's Meal: Dach'youn gain a +4 racial bonus to Profession (Cooking) checks and can choose to make a Profession (Cooking) check in lieu of a Survival or Knowledge check relating to food.
- +2 Dexterity instead of Constitution
- Moon Blessing: Your bonus to Sense Motive and Perception checks doubles.
- Moon Curse: You gain no benefits from Morale or Rally bonuses, but penalties still apply.
- +3 Constitution instead of +2
- Moon Blessing: You can reroll a failed Fortitude save; the result of this reroll stands, you can't reroll it again.
- Moon Curse: You cannot make any kind of Knowledge check.
- +2 Wisdom instead of Charisma
- Moon Blessing: Once per ally per full moon, you can reroll an ally's failed saving throw using your own bonus; the result of this reroll stands, you can't reroll it again.
- Moon Curse: Roll a d6 to determine which curse affects you for the duration of Gu'sha's new moon phase; on a 1 you cannot benefit from magical healing, on a 2 you are deaf, on a 3 you cannot use four-legged speed, on a 4 you are mute, on a 5 you lose the benefits of your Scent ability, and on a 6 you are blind.
- +2 Strength instead of Constitution
- Moon Blessing: +5 to CMB
- Moon Curse: You do not gain your Wisdom modifier to any rolls.
- +2 Intelligence instead of Charisma
- Moon Blessing: In a non-combat situation, your Intelligence modifier is doubled.
- Moon Curse: Your CMD is 10 and it cannot gain any bonuses.
- +3 Charisma instead of +2
- Moon Blessing: All creatures with Intelligence 8+ have their default starting attitude towards you increased by two levels.
- Moon Curse: You gain a 10ft Aura of Untrust; all creatures in this aura automatically notice you and gain +5 to any contested Charisma check against you.
- +1 to any ability score
- Moon Blessing: When a hostile creature first makes eye contact with you, it must pass a Will save (DC 10 + your Charisma modifier + 1/2 your level) or flee in terror. This is a fear effect.
- Moon Curse: All creatures with Intelligence 8+ have their default starting attitude towards you decreased by two levels.
|This article or section is about Monstergirls (or a monster that is frequently depicted as a Monstergirl), something that /tg/ widely considers to be the purest form of awesome. Expect PROMOTIONS! and /d/elight in equal measure, often with drawfaggotry or writefaggotry to match.|
Despite everything, gnolls are a little... embarrassing for /tg/. This, as much as the generally lackluster fluff, is more than likely why the race is rarely focused on, in comparison to, say, goblins, orcs or even ogres.
Let's start with the obvious elephant in the room; as a beast-man race, gnolls are like furry magnets. And unlike minotaurs or sphinxes (who have a mythological origin that can be pointed to), or kobolds (who don't really resemble any real-world animal), the only real difference between gnolls and fantasy-dwelling hyena furries is... well, pretty much the whole "demon-worshiping cannibalistic murderous tribal monsters culture" thing. Whenever there's a gnoll thread on /tg/, you can be sure there will be an argument about whether or not they count as furries that eventually gets it locked. Needless to say, confronted with the problem of being unable to flesh out the gnolls without being accused of being furries, most DMs say "fuck it" and try to do something interesting with orcs instead.
Another major problem is that, as mentioned above, gnolls most visually resemble the spotted hyena. The spotted hyena's brutally matriarchal social structure and female favoring sexual dimorphism (that is, girls are bigger and stronger than guys) easily translates into /d/-related content, since /d/ is all over Amazon-built musclegirls as well as femdom. To say nothing of how the gnollish slavery-focused society easily translated into sex-slavery in the eyes of /d/Ms - but then, they've been doing that shit with orcs and other such races for ages. But there was more to it than that...
See, spotted hyenas are infamous for one particular thing: the pseudo-penis. Biologists still have no idea what function it serves (seeing as how it doesn't seem to do anything but needlessly complicate reproduction, to the point that something like a quarter of first-time mothers die of a torn and hemorrhaging urethral-genital tract, and their babies can get stuck and suffocate in the tube), but the end result is that female spotted hyenas are essentially real life dickgirls. With the popularity of dickgirls on both /d/ and amongst furries, this led to a huge outburst of gnollish perversity that /tg/ fought hard to stamp out, but which still threatens to, ahem, "rear its ugly head" today.
(Fun fact: Both genders of Spotted Hyenas also often use erection as a sign of submission)
Add in the fact that hyenas in real life do have a lot of mythological/traditional association with perversity - Pliny the Elder reported hyenas were hermaphrodites who changed sexes whenever they wished (which considering the above is actually one of the more accurate inaccuracies in his writings), striped hyena anuses and vaginas are used for love & lust charms to the extent that "he has the anus of a hyena" is a real-world African saying today to refer to someone who's really good at scoring sex - and... well, let's just say that gnolls can very easily take a starring role in somebody's magical realm and leave it at that, okay?
Then again, if orcs, goblins and kobolds can be rescued from the Always Chaotic Evil niche, why not gnolls? Gnolls are practically tailor-made for an unholy blend of furry, amazon and/or musclegirl, and "sexy evil girl" fetishism, after all...
World of Warcraft
Like pretty much everything else that was part of DnD back in 2003, gnolls are commonly found in WoW. They typically inhabit low-level areas, where players are given quests to slaughter them in large numbers. One of WoW's most famous low-level bosses, Hogger, is a gnoll.
- Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition races
- Gnoll up!
- FAPP: A tabletop game made by a gnoll.
- Gnolls are a minor enemy in Final Fantasy IX
|Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Races|
|Basic Set:||Dwarf - Elf - Hobbit - Human|
|Creature Crucible 1:||Brownie - Centaur - Dryad - Faun - Hsiao |
Leprechaun - Pixie - Pooka - Redcap - Sidhe
Sprite - Treant - Wood Imp - Wooddrake
|Creature Crucible 2:||Faenare - Gnome - Gremlin - Harpy |
Nagpa - Pegataur - Sphinx - Tabi
|Creature Crucible 3:||Kna - Kopru - Merrow - Nixie |
Sea Giant - Shark-kin - Triton
|Dragon Magazine:||Cayma - Gatorman - Lupin - N'djatwa |
Phanaton - Rakasta - Shazak - Wallara
|Hollow World:||Beastman - Brute-Man - Hutaakan |
Krugel Orc - Kubitt - Malpheggi Lizard Man
|Known World:||Bugbear - Goblin - Gnoll |
Hobgoblin - Kobold - Ogre - Troll
|Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Races|
|Core:||Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human|
|Dark Sun:||Aarakocra - Half-Giant - Mul - Pterran - Thri-kreen|
|Dragonlance:||Draconian - Irda - Kender - Minotaur|
|Mystara:||Aranea - Ee'ar - Enduk - Lizardfolk (Cayma - Gurrash - Shazak) |
Lupin - Manscorpion - Phanaton - Rakasta - Tortle - Wallara
|Oriental Adventures:||Korobokuru - Hengeyokai - Spirit Folk|
|Planescape:||Aasimar - Bariaur - Genasi - Githyanki - Githzerai - Modron - Tiefling|
|Spelljammer:||Dracon - Giff - Grommam - Hadozee - Hurwaeti - Rastipede - Scro - Xixchil|
|Ravenloft:||Broken One - Flesh Golem - Half-Vistani - Therianthrope|
Book of X:
|Alaghi - Beastman - Bugbear - Bullywug - Centaur - Duergar |
Fremlin - Firbolg - Flind - Gnoll - Goblin - Half-Ogre - Hobgoblin
Kobold - Mongrelfolk - Ogre - Ogre Mage - Orc - Pixie
Satyr - Saurial - Svirfneblin - Swanmay - Voadkyn - Wemic
|Dragon Magazine:||Half-Dryad - Half-Satyr - Uldra - Xvart|
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook 1:||Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf |
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
|Player's Handbook 2:||Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden|
|Monster Manual 1:||Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki |
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
|Monster Manual 2:||Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku|
|Dragon Magazine:||Gnoll - Shadar-kai|
|Heroes of Shadow:||Revenant - Shade - Vryloka|
|Heroes of the Feywild||Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr|
|Eberron's Player's Guide:||Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged|
|The Manual of the Planes:||Bladeling|
|Dark Sun Campaign Setting:||Mul - Thri-kreen|
|Forgotten Realms Player's Guide:||Drow - Genasi|
|The Races of Pathfinder|
|Player's Handbook:||Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human|
|Aasimar - Catfolk - Changeling - Dhampir - Duergar |
Drow - Fetchling - Gillman - Goblin - Grippli - Hobgoblin
Ifrit - Kitsune - Kobold - Merfolk - Nagaji - Orc - Oread
Ratfolk - Samsaran - Strix - Suli - Svirfneblin - Sylph
Tengu - Tiefling - Undine - Vanara - Vishkanya - Wayang
|Bestiaries:||Android - Astomoi - Caligni - Deep One Hybrid - Gathlain |
Gnoll - Kasatha - Munavri - Naiad - Orang-Pendak
Reptoid - Rougarou - Shabti - Trox - Yaddithian
|Adventure Paths:||Being of Ib - Kuru|
|Inner Sea Races:||Ghoran - Monkey Goblin - Lashunta - Skinwalker |
Syrinx - Triaxian - Wyrwood - Wyvaran
|Ultimate Wilderness:||Vine Leshy|
|Blood of the Sea:||Adaro - Cecaelia - Grindylow - Locathah - Sahuagin - Triton|
|Planar Adventures:||Aphorite - Duskwalker - Ganzi|