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

Yora

Legend
This thread had me thinking that for my world, gnolls probably should be natural hunters and scavengers.
Unless it's made specific that creatures are magical creations, I feel they should be able to exist in a paleolithic environment with very few people around and no technologies and institutions of civilization to sustain them. (I already did some rewrites for doppelgangers on that basis some years ago.)

Gnolls can exist deep in the wilderness and have society and culture of their own even when nobody else is around to rob. Unlike early humans, they are almost entirely carnivorous and always relied on hunting for food, but being social pack hunters and much smarter than animals, they were doing very well with stealing prey that other predators had killed by chasing them away. And their digestion is also fine with meat that's several days old.
The great majority of gnolls still lives that way deep in the wilderness, now that they have spears, bows, leather, and rope and strings. But those that live on the edges of civilizations very easily take on the habit of not just chasing other predators away from meat, but also chase other humanoids away from any stuff that they want to have. Gnoll banditry and raiding is really no different from human banditry, but overall gnolls are much quicker to take up that habit as it's much less a violation of their social norms. But of course humans also do it all the time anyway.

Among the humanoids, gnolls are the most inhuman. Which greatly limits the other potential interactions that the wild hunter bands could have with settled peoples. Nonviolent interactions are possible, but there rarely is enough comfort on either side to establish much in the way of cooperation and trade. Very remote borderland villages might know about gnoll bands hunting in the woods on the other side of a river or some hills that respect that informal border, but will only very see them in the distance. But this might change very quickly if something forces the gnolls to shift their hunting grounds and the villages look like the best alternative food source.
Where gnolls get a particularly nasty reputation is their habit to eat people they killed in a raid. Humans are almost always too high risk for hunting when other prey is around. But if they do a raid and people get killed, it's free meat just lying around!
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
This thread had me thinking that for my world, gnolls probably should be natural hunters and scavengers.
Unless it's made specific that creatures are magical creations, I feel they should be able to exist in a paleolithic environment with very few people around and no technologies and institutions of civilization to sustain them. (I already did some rewrites for doppelgangers on that basis some years ago.)

Gnolls can exist deep in the wilderness and have society and culture of their own even when nobody else is around to rob. Unlike early humans, they are almost entirely carnivorous and always relied on hunting for food, but being social pack hunters and much smarter than animals, they were doing very well with stealing prey that other predators had killed by chasing them away. And their digestion is also fine with meat that's several days old.
The great majority of gnolls still lives that way deep in the wilderness, now that they have spears, bows, leather, and rope and strings. But those that live on the edges of civilizations very easily take on the habit of not just chasing other predators away from meat, but also chase other humanoids away from any stuff that they want to have. Gnoll banditry and raiding is really no different from human banditry, but overall gnolls are much quicker to take up that habit as it's much less a violation of their social norms. But of course humans also do it all the time anyway.

Among the humanoids, gnolls are the most inhuman. Which greatly limits the other potential interactions that the wild hunter bands could have with settled peoples. Nonviolent interactions are possible, but there rarely is enough comfort on either side to establish much in the way of cooperation and trade. Very remote borderland villages might know about gnoll bands hunting in the woods on the other side of a river or some hills that respect that informal border, but will only very see them in the distance. But this might change very quickly if something forces the gnolls to shift their hunting grounds and the villages look like the best alternative food source.
Where gnolls get a particularly nasty reputation is their habit to eat people they killed in a raid. Humans are almost always too high risk for hunting when other prey is around. But if they do a raid and people get killed, it's free meat just lying around!
All of this jibes nicely with my version of gnolls. Consider it yoinked.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Yeah, I’m stealing pretty much all of that too, except for the part about being able to digest scavenged meat well, since that would conflict with my flind lore.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
I've been meaning to reply to this for a week. But I've been away from my computer and I'd be buggered if I was going to do all this typing on my phone.

I suppose the first thing I should say is I have no truck with that nonsense about gnolls being demons or whatever. #Gnolls Are People!

So I recently(ish) ran a campaign in which the group had a lot of interaction with gnolls. It was the sort of campaign with a not-Egypt, a not-Sumer. The game went to not-North Africa and they met a bunch of gnoll tribes there.

The tribes are matriarchal - the leadership of the various tribes are almost all female. Tribal units are smallish - a thousand or so members. Each with it's own territory. The gnolls consider themselves a nation and act in concert against outside threats. But they still war among themselves. And indeed it was into the middle of one such inter-tribal war that the PCs wandered.

The tribes all share a religion and have a sense of shared history. The tribes share a space for the disposal of the dead (by exposure.) I didn't define the religion very closely but it has aspects of nature spirit and ancestral veneration. The main nature spirit is a mother goddess figure called Heeyihee. Oh, and at a funeral they say "The wind in the grass will speak their name." (Something I came up with spur of the moment at a PC's funeral.)

In terms of economics they're herders (cattle and goats) and hunters with a little light farming. They're not exclusive carnivores, hence the farming. Their local booze was a fermented milk thing. They trade with the settled human kingdoms on the coast. The gnolls trade leather, and cured meat and dairy for metal tools and weapons. Speaking of, their preferred weapons are re-curve bows. Wood is rare so the bows use a lot of bone in their construction.

One thing I did, because I wanted the gnoll's names to have a similar sound, was I created a little matrix of sounds - vowels across the top, consonants down the side. I did six examples for each. This gave me 36 phonemes that I could then string together for names. Had pretty good results even if I do say so myself.

That's my first bunch of gnolls.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
My second bunch of gnolls are from my never used Beyond the Keep on the Borderlands campaign setting. The gnolls of the Spikes are much closer to the classic vision of gnolls.

The Spikes, a region named for the many tall basalt rock formations that dot the dry landscape, is home to about 20 clans of gnolls. They predominantly make their livelihoods as raiders. They raid each other and all their neighbours, but their favourite targets are the hobgoblins who drove them from their homelands in the nearby steppe about 500 years ago. They are also hunters, hunting the big horn sheep and antelope of the region. In both raiding and hunting they use trained hyenas and hyenadons.

They live in heavily fortified fortresses that they carve into the highest peaks. Their only real industry is mining the silver and gem bearing quartz seems of the region. The work is done by slaves and used for trading, mostly for weapons.

Their religion is a mix of ancestor veneration and the worship of a demon god called Heeyihee. (I wish to point out that although I recycled the name for my gnolls above, the two are not meant to be the same being, nor avatars, nor nothing. I just liked the sound of it and wanted to use it. Plus laziness.) Anyhoo, Heeyihee is a war and death god who demands cannibalism on Her holy days. Acquiring captives for this is one of the reasons the gnolls raid.

They also practice cannibalism of their own dead, but this is a much more solemn ritual than the blood soaked feasts of Heeyihee. In battle they will go to great lengths to retrieve fallen comrades, or at least their livers. They believe that the soul resides in the liver and that by eating the liver of their fallen they continue to give their strength to the clan. It is eaten raw, finely chopped and rolled into balls with a coarse barley flour.

These gnolls place immense value on personal honour. Like crazy amounts. Above and beyond personal survival and even the survival of the clan. This touchiness about personal honour makes the internal politics of a clan a web of personal debts and insults that is impossible for outsiders to understand. Think trying to make head or tail of 30 years of intense soap opera plot twists from watching one episode.

The following is lifted from my campaign notes:

Sheelaghru was a champion of the Tearing Teeth Clan, their foremost warrior and the greatest warrior of all the gnolls. On a raid against the Yildiz hobgoblins she was cut off and surrounded and would certainly have died had not a pack of warriors from the Blood Snout Clan rescued her.

Later the two clans fell into a dispute over hunting rights and a feud developed. The Blood Snouts led the whole Tearing Teeth tribe into an ambush. Sheelaghru prepared to lead a charge to break out of the trap when the Blood Snout chief called on her blood debt. Many Tearing Teeth warriors had already fallen in the ambush and the survivors were outnumbered, without the legendary Sheelaghru they would never survive. Among the remaining Tearing Teeth warriors was Sheelaghru’s mate. He and Sheelaghru embraced and she promised to eat his liver then walked away from the battlefield. With a howl the Tearing Teeth warriors charged to their deaths.

At the funeral rites of her tribe Sheelaghru devoured the livers of all her dead comrades. Then she called on Heeyihee to help her gain vengeance. At the next dark of the moon, when Heeyihee’s power is at its greatest, Sheelaghru attacked the Blood Snout bastion. By the dawn there were no Blood Snouts left alive. With the dark power of Heeyihee to help her she had slain them all, even their slaves. Sheelaghru climbed to the top of the Blood Snout's fortress and at the first touch of the sunlight flung herself to the jagged rocks below, in payment for her demon-god’s aid.

This episode, which resulted in the total destruction of two whole clans, is the most revered of all the gnolls’ folk tales. An outsider might see it as a nihilistic tale but to the gnolls it encapsulates all their beliefs in one epic: longing for the steppes and hatred of the hobgoblins; paying of blood debts; death in battle; the rites of farewell; revenge; the supremacy of Heeyihee; and above all personal honour. The full tale takes three nights to tell (it is never told during the day) with the details of the funeral rites of the Tearing Teeth taking the whole of the second night.


And luckily for one and all, that's it for my gnolls. B-)
 

RhaezDaevan

Explorer
I don't have animal people as player options in my games, as it comes too close to furries for me. Not to yuck anyone else's yum, just not for me. The closest I've come to it would be a satyr I allowed once, and there was talk of a merfolk another time. So animal bodies I guess are OK, just not animal heads. I'm weird, I guess.

I have used the gnoll stats for more generic "beast men" type enemies that can have different animal heads (sort of like trollocs from Wheel of Time) as the henchmen for one big bad, and used the stats with a completely different description another time for "demon men" where evil spirits were possessing and transforming people. I tend to re-skin monsters just as often as I use them "as-is".
 

Bitbrain

ORC (Open RPG) horde ally
Given that Mystara is one of the more prominent settings in my home games, I went with gnolls being hyenafolk created by the fantasy egyptian Nithian Empire to serve as shock troops.

Nithia itself no longer exists, but the gnolls are instinctively driven to aid in its restoration. Therefore, whenever you encounter a band of gnolls in my home games, it means that the lair of an undead nithian warlord/archmage/priest is somewhere nearby and the gnolls are its willing servants.
 

RhaezDaevan

Explorer
Given that Mystara is one of the more prominent settings in my home games, I went with gnolls being hyenafolk created by the fantasy egyptian Nithian Empire to serve as shock troops.

Nithia itself no longer exists, but the gnolls are instinctively driven to aid in its restoration. Therefore, whenever you encounter a band of gnolls in my home games, it means that the lair of an undead nithian warlord/archmage/priest is somewhere nearby and the gnolls are its willing servants.
I always think of jackals, not hyenas when I think of Egypt.
 


Yora

Legend
Though actually, there are no jackals in Egypt. (At least now.)

But there are hyenas in Turkey and Azerbaijan, which is fascinating.
 

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