Gnolls are the vicious, bloodthirsty scavengers of Dungeons & Dragons. With demonic origins and a distinct lack of any kind of mercy, adventurers must be wary. The whining laughter of these creatures sends chills down the spines of adventurers and players alike as the hungry pack of fiends grows ever nearer.
The first gnolls originated from the packs of hyenas who followed the Demon Lord Yeenoghu as he butchered his way through the Material Plane. Scavenging the bodies left in the Demon Lord’s wake, the hyenas transformed into the bipedal creatures that so many fear today.
When Yeenoghu was banished back to the Abyss, the gnolls remained. They spread across the lands and their numbers grew uncontrollably. Any target that appears unfortified, such as a village or farm, is an ideal target for the gnolls’ wrath.
Gnolls embody the raging slaughter and destruction that Yeenoghu inspires. They are extensions of the Demon Lord’s will and actively set to reduce the world around them to ruin.
Because of this, gnolls cannot be reasoned with. Victims are either killed outright or kept alive just long enough to be butchered on one of their altars to Yeenoghu.
If adventurers encounter a band of these fiends, they have only two options: fight or die.
On the surface, one might confuse the savagery and mindless rage of gnolls with a lack of cunning. Unfortunately, few assumptions are as fatal as this. Gnolls have proven time and time again to use aggressive tactics in their raids.
Gnolls swarm the weakest targets that they can first. From panicking villagers to the unarmored mage in the party’s backline, gnolls aim to generate the highest body count possible. To this end, gnolls will frequently unleash volleys of arrows to weaken enemies before charging forward to finish them off.
If not defeated, a pack will not end their attack until there are no survivors left. If anyone tries to escape, the pack will pursue the survivor for as long as necessary to stop them from finding refuge.
If the pack is particularly motivated, they will stand up to well-defended enemies with the same pack tactics. Above all else, gnolls hit hard, fast, and in large numbers. As their bloodlust drives them forward, gnolls will climb piles of their own dead to sink their teeth into a victim or scale a city’s walls.
Gnoll warbands contain mixtures of different types of gnolls and their allies.
The leaders of these warbands are champions of Yeenoghu called Pack Lords. They prefer large weapons like glaives and their hides are often covered in bloody runes. On some occasions, these runes may give them additional supernatural powers from Yeenoghu.
Gnoll Fangs of Yeenoghu prefer to tear into victims with their claws. In this way, the Fang of Yeenoghu imbues their victim with the magic necessary to turn their companion hyenas into gnolls upon eating the victim’s remains. Unless the Fang of Yeenoghu is killed, the pack will continue to rapidly grow.
The largest portion of the pack is made up of warriors, hunters, and flesh-gnawers. Warriors form the standard infantry of the pack while hunters attack from a distance with bows. Flesh gnawers take a more tactical approach by flanking enemies and attacking any who become isolated in the assault.
Gnoll Witherlings are evidence that sometimes not even death can stop gnolls. Despite being devoured by their own kind in periods where the pack hasn’t encountered humanoid victims, the Witherling still serves Yeenoghu. Witherlings are the animated corpses of these gnolls who are still just as relentless in undeath as they were in life.
The largest and strongest of gnolls are called flinds. Even the Pack Lord defers leadership of the pack to these monstrous creatures. Because of this, there is never more than one flind in a pack.
Flinds are viewed as messengers of Yeenoghu and carry powerful enchanted flails that ravage both the mind and body of their victims. If a flind is killed by another gnoll, that gnoll erupts in Abyssal energy and becomes a flind itself. These are the rarest of all gnolls, but they are also the most dangerous.
Gnolls and their Neverending Hunger
Gnolls have no capacity for creation and hate the sight of civilization. They roam the lands in packs and are eternally searching for victims. If there are no victims to be found, these brutal creatures will turn on each other.
They possess the curse (blessing?) of Yeenoghu’s insatiable hunger. While these fiends may get sustenance from eating wild animals in their travels, their hunger can only be quelled by eating the flesh of intelligent humanoids.
Because of this, packs descend on settled areas like a swarm of locusts. A village or settlement that was recently attacked by gnolls will have no survivors and likely be reduced to nothing more than dirt and ash.
Even the weapons and armor that gnolls use are testaments to their scavenger nature. Both are spoils from the pack’s warpath with their armor often being of multiple different makes and loosely held together.
Few types of creatures have the ability to create the level of fear that gnolls can. With their brutal attacks and love of slaughter, it can be very easy for an adventuring party to find themselves overwhelmed.
Because gnolls are nomadic and have the ability to grow their numbers so quickly, they can fit into nearly any campaign setting. While they are common enemies at low-levels, there are so many ways to use the wide variety of gnolls that they can easily remain threatening in mid-high levels of play.
Something about the mix of their brutal and ritualistic behavior makes them incredibly fascinating and unique. Because of this mixture, they have a ton of ways that they can be used to frighten players who grow increasingly worried that their character may be next on a pack’s altar.