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Dungeons and Dragons: The Bloody Gnolls Ate My Baby

To all you makers, mad scientists, hackers, alchemists, or celebrity chefs out there, if you are looking for a recipe, here’s the recipe for cooking up a Gnoll at home:

  • 100 pounds of Hyena
  • 25 pounds of fresh demon flesh
  • one tablespoon of horror from the demon prince Yeenoghu

First, you drink the tablespoon of horror, simply to satisfy your thirst for evil, then you feed demon flesh to a rapid pack of hyenas, fusing the essence of the demons with the animals. Legends say that this will give rise to a Gnoll, a 7 foot tall, 300 pound creature that revels in the hunt and lets loose with haunting laughter, just as the demon prince Yeenoghu hoped they would.

Gnolls are brutally savage and unforgiving. And when they kill? It’s it’s not for the purpose of conquest, it’s simply because cruelty and bloodshed are a source of joy for them.

*Ahem.* It’s no wonder that the gnoll has long been one of the iconic creatures of Dungeons and Dragons, that has also spread into other geek fare like World of Warcraft. So let’s rewind briefly and flesh out the history of these hyena humanoids.

A Brief History of Gnolls

A gnoll from the Pathfinder RPG Monster Codex

Paul Haynie literally wrote the book on gnolls, and he claims that gnolls were introduced in 1912 by Lord Dunsany in “How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles“, the name likely derived from the English noll. Lord Dunsany’s gnoles were simply a stepping stone for the next iteration.

In 1974, in the D&D “White Box” Gary Gygax said this about the gnoll: “A cross between gnomes and trolls (…perhaps, Lord Dunsany did not really make it all that clear). Otherwise they are similar to hobgoblins…

But this iteration lasted only a couple of years. The 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual described gnolls as hyena-men. In later years (2008) the Yeenoghu legend was introduced in Dragon Magazine #367, and there have certainly been other additions of flavor added here and there along the way, but it’s this core idea of savage hyena-men that has persisted to this day.

Gnoll Lore: What else is interesting?

But just because we’ve established the gist of the gnoll as hyena-humanoids, it doesn’t mean I won’t give you some more savory morsels. How about these 4 pieces of gnoll lore:

    1. Hogger, a Gnoll from the Riverpaw Pack of World of Warcraft.
      Hogger, a Gnoll from the Riverpaw Pack of World of Warcraft.

      Gnolls are nomadic. They rarely claim lands of their own, nor do they stay long in permanent settlements. Instead, they live nomadic lives, wondering the fringes of civilization, razing small villages and hamlets in search of prey. They attack any travelers they think they can defeat and the unfortunate survivors are often taken as slaves.

    2. Gnolls are pack hunters. In fact, many RPG editions would give gnolls combat bonuses for their strength and savvy as pack hunters. The current Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual – D&D 5e – has a Gnoll Pack Lord that can incite a rampage among nearby gnolls, which allow them an extra attack.
  • Gnoll culture isn’t 100% repulsive (although it is close). Gnolls place a very strong value on family, respecting blood ties immensely. Though gnolls within a pack commonly fight with each other for dominance, these battles are quickly forgiven and forgotten, and in most situations, gnolls of the same bloodline are loyal allies to one another. It should be noted that bloodlines are almost always traced maternally, through the female line.
  • D&D has often included a sub-race of gnolls throughout its history. The flind is shorter, broader, and stronger than other gnolls, and are often found leading a tribe or settlement of gnolls. Flinds use a nunchuk-like weapon called a flindbar, which is a pair of heavy metal rods linked together by a chain.

D&D 5e Gnoll Lore

GnollsThe gnoll is a pretty straight-forward creature, so perhaps that’s why it has had such a lasting legacy, never in the spotlight, but always milling about in the background of nerd culture among RPGs, books, and video games.

The gnoll takes an interesting creature like the laughing hyenas of Africa and keeps the carnivorous pack hunting and spotted canine appearance, yet really dials it up and makes it something fierce and memorable in geek gaming culture. The gnolls were created to be something else to throw at players bored with orcs and hobgoblins, but they’ve settled into something memorable on thier own.

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