D&D General Tell Us About Your Gnolls! [+]

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Sure, sounds interesting. Should we have an orc thread too, or can they be honorary goblinoids and share the tread, due belonging to that group in Tolkien and Warhammer? :sick:

It might take me a couple of days to get to it, but I will definitely try (and I won't lie that part of the reason I brought this up was to force to me to think it through and write down more than I have already).

As for orcs, I don't have any in my current setting (and they are not/were not goblinoids), as they were driven to extinction by the "free peoples" (humans, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, elves) and all that remains are the Orc-Born (which I have written some about in my homebrew and can just copy and paste into whichever thread makes sense for orcs).
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The one ancestry I've kept as evil. As stated above, it's nice to have one group the PCs don't need to think about in terms of who they are.


Hey, neat. My little aside spun off a whole thread. (Or I guess two that got merged?) That's cool. Gnolls are kind of my jam. Time was, I was actually kind of locally famous in the gamer community where I'm from about it. To the point that, after an absence of about ten years, I was recognized from a distance and greeted by a guy I had never played D&D with loudly singing a goofy war-chant I had written for a gnoll PC at me. My phone notification sound is a hyena laughing, and when one of my online friends heard it go off during a remote D&D session during the pandemic shutdowns, his immediate reaction was "Wait, you have a hyena?" Because apparently that springs more immediately to mind that it might be a tv in the background or something. I say that mostly to put into context what I mean when I say "Gnolls are kind of my jam."

Before I get started, I want to be clear: I don't hate the 5e version of gnolls. I am annoyed that they feel like they needed to make them permanently unplayable for this edition, since they've been playable in all the previous ones, but if my introduction to gnolls had been the 5e version, I would have thought they were awesome. If nothing else, for them not being painted as dirty scavengers, but as badass hunters, and hyenas just don't get their proper recognition on that front often enough.

But that wasn't my introduction to gnolls. I came to D&D in the 80s with AD&D, but I only played a couple of sessions that early. I got back into it in the 90s, and we ended up playing a blended AD&D1/2 pretty much from then forward, and my introduction to the gnoll was the AD&D 2nd edition version. In this version, they were big, badass, dangerous, and perfectly usable in low-level adventures, which is a great combination for a budding DM just getting started. Also, the excellent Tony Diterlizzi art helped a lot. In fact, I would say that art (posted earlier in the thread) probably shaped my internal conception of the gnoll more than anything else. The orc was a hunched over thug. The goblin was your little brother with a rusty knife. The kobold was some vicious little comic relief guy. But the gnoll? That dude is a hero.

I know a lot of people probably look at the slouching stance and the tattered cape and see some lazy looter with crap he snagged off the dead or whatever. Heck, it wouldn't surprise if it was intended that way, given the description they got. But that isn't what I saw in that image at all. I saw the aftermath of one of those epic battles splattered all over fantasy fiction, from books to films, to cartoons, to comic books, to D&D. And I saw one lone figure at the end of it, battered, exhausted, but resolute. Bent, but not broken. Weapon in hand, torn cloak blowing in the wind. And if you drew an elf or a dwarf in that exact pose like that, I think most people would see it that way, too. And that's what gnolls looked like in my head forever after.

Sure, they were mostly evil. They often worshipped demons. I repeatedly used them as bandits, mercenaries, shock troopers in the vanguard of the armies of darkness, all the usual sort of roles everyone put them in. But when I did it, it was always there in my mind. Gnolls are heroes. Sure, not all of them. Not all humans or elves or dwarves are heroes, either. But they stand on the same ground as humans and elves and dwarves that way. They are trying to carve out a legend that will live through the ages, even if they're trying to carve it out of your hide.

One of the more stand out gnoll NPCs I created was a rando throwaway until the players did what players do and took off in an unexpected direction. I was running Keep on the Borderlands, and one of the captives in the caves was a gnoll. Usually, PCs will leave him there, "put him out of his misery," or let him go with a strong threat that if they find him doing raids or something, they will kill him just like they killed the other raiders in the module. These PCs talked to him. Not just "who are you, where are you from, how many enemy combatants are in the cave system" stuff, but actually talked to him. I guess the "gnolls are heroes" thing bled through in a way that spoke to them. Because after a conversation with this vicious gnoll berserker who promised them no mercy should they meet on the field of battle, they put the Helm of Opposite Alignment (also found in the caves) on him, turning him to Lawful Good. Without otherwise changing his personality. And that's how the party wound up traveling with a vicious gnoll berserker dedicated to "Spreading the holy word of our Lord Pelor the Shining, as revealed by His great prophet, Yoonoghu, the Beast of Butchery." Hilarity ensued.

Anyway, this post is getting a bit out of control, so I should probably close it before I end up writing a novel here.


Yup. Early hyenas were also weird, with stuff like Chasmaporthes, the only hyena that made it over to North America, being a sprinter. There were a lot of generalist hyenas, the bone-crushers were just a specialised family. But in the end, all the dog-like hyena generalists died out but one, leaving the bone crushing group and the one weird survivor of the generalist line, who went all in on eating termites, the aardwolf. Meanwhile the canine relatives that were dedicated to bone crushing (borophaginae, one of the three groups inside canidae) went extinct due to competing with both felines and canines proper

As for gnolls I kind of just, swiped from Pathfinder 2 significantly in having different types
Fun fact: there's a borophagus species called orc.

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