Nice to Yeenoghu
Gnolls are savage, hyena-headed humanoids that are the bi-product of the demon lord Yeenoghu’s conquests on the material plane. When Yeenoghu enters the material plane, he will go on a savage rampage leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. As these corpses rot, some will be consumed by hyenas until the dead flesh leaves them bloated and unable to move. Then, in a shower of blood and gristle, a gnoll will be born, taking up Yeenoghu’s penchant for death and destruction. Gnoll’s serve both as memories of the wanton destruction exacted by Yeenoghu, and as a continuation of Yeenoghu’s murderous mission.
Gnolls are tall humanoids of about 7 feet in height though they’re also lean making them quick. They weigh about 300 pounds and have the head of a hyena. They’re covered in brownish fur and have grey, blotchy skin. Some believe that gnolls trace their ancestry back to demons, which may explain some of the demonic features they have such as talons, red eyes or black fur with orange splotches.
Gnoll females are almost indistinguishable from male gnolls without close physical inspection or unless they’re pregnant or nursing. Gnolls do not have a long lifespan for humanoids, living for about 30 years before dying naturally.
Gnolls take on the attributes of Yeenoghu in that their only desire is to slaughter. The only time a gnoll will have its murderous desires sated might be after murdering an entire settlement, even then, within a few days, the gnoll’s bloodlust will have returned with the same insatiable desire as before. Gnolls rarely sleep so their mission for death rarely rests either other than to fashion weapons and armour from the bodies of their victimes. Gnolls know only 3 concepts; strength, hunger and fear.
Yeenoghu is perhaps the most active demon lord on the mortal plane, exacting slaughter on a regular basis. To continue his vision for total annihilation, Yeenoghu will grant his followers omens in the form of dreams, signs and visions. Because of this, gnolls have an inbuilt instinct to look for such omens as they go about their slaughter. Often, these will be seen from the blood spatter or the entrails of an intelligent humanoid they’ve been making a meal of, the sight of an arrow in flight or the sounds of howling or cackling from some indiscernible source.
Gnolls seek only to kill as many creatures as they can; they know no glory or honour so they’re generally uninterested in fighting creatures that can fight back. If they’re killed, a gnoll can no longer enact Yeenoghu’s desire for slaughter and if they’re distracted by a protracted battle, their effectiveness at killing more people is diminished. This is why it is best to seek fortification in order to avoid a gnoll attack.
Gnolls are not intellectual creatures and have little desire for items of great monetary value or attractive appearance. The only value they see is in an object’s ability to cause destruction. This means that gnolls care little for treasure and will even leave it behind (as long as it’s robust enough to survive their careless handling). The only treasures gnolls might keep are weapons that they might have looted.
Gnolls have a rudimentary form of language that consists of howls, cackles and whines as well as some expressions that convey basic meanings. Other than basic commands or concepts, gnolls have little use for complex language. On the occassions that gnoll leaders need to communicate with their demon overlords, they use a broken form of abyssal given to them by Yeenoghu. This can even be used to write messages, though gnoll language has no written form.
While gnolls may appear to throw themselves headlong into combat, they do possess some level of cunning that allows them to use certain tactics. Although they tend to prey on the weak, when an omen commands them to attack stronger enemies, they tend to use sheer strength in numbers to overwhelm their foes. If a stronghold needs overcoming, gnolls will literally clamber over their dead in order to climb its walls.
Gnolls are able to replenish their numbers through hyenas that consume the corpses of the creatures they’ve slaughtered. Gnolls will tend to keep moving far and wide in order to spread the death and destruction they sow, but also in order to replenish their ranks.
Most gnolls have a bow and arrow which they use to shoot down fleeing prey. An injured victim is easier to catch than a healthy one. Some gnolls will even set their arrows alight to creating burning arrows which can be used to cut off an escape route, though most gnolls aren’t intelligent enough for such tactics.
Gnolls are an enemy to everyone and most creatures do not want them in their territory, for this reason, gnolls try to maintain some level of discretion. This is accomplished by being constantly on the move, never settling long enough for an organised attack to be made against them. They try to leave no survivors at the places they attack and, if a hunting ground becomes too well-defended, they will travel to less dangerous areas.
Types of gnolls
Different gnolls have different attributes that they use in different ways within a gnoll warband. The different types of gnolls can be seen below:
Gnoll pack lord
Highly favoured gnolls of Yeenoghu become pack lords. They bring about Yeenoghu’s favour through murderous destruction and the provision of living sacrifices. They will carve magical runes into their hide in order to gain supernatural powers from Yeenoghu. They tend to favour heavy weapons befitting of their frame such as glaives and axes.
Gnoll fangs of Yeenoghu
Fangs of Yeenoghu are the ones that facilitate the conversion of hyenas into gnolls by anointing slaughtered foes in a bizarre ritual that will transform hyenas that feed on these corpses into more gnolls. The few humanoids that feast on such corpses will become cultists of Yeenoghu. A fang’s claws are its primary weapon and are able to instantly transfer such magical properties into corpses.
The bulk of a warband is made up of gnoll warriors. These are the rank and file troops of a gnoll warband. They have no particular gift from Yeenoghu, but can still use their ferocity to honour their lord as well as spears fashioned from wood and bone.
Gnoll hunters are the stealthiest of the gnolls used as scouts and even assassins to pick off enemy sentries. They will sneak ahead and around the gnoll warband, detecting the movements of an enemy and using stealth to make slaughter more effective.
Gnoll flesh gnawers
While all gnolls are savage, some are quicker and more ruthless than others. Flesh gnawers are particularly brutal, using their speed to pick of creatures that become isolated, slashing and hacking with their blades and teeth.
Witherlings are undead gnolls. When a gnoll craves the flesh of an intelligent creature for too long, it may become deranged and a danger to the rest of the warband. At this point, the other gnolls will kill the creature. Its worth is not lost however. Such a creature will be raised to an undead servant by a war lord or flind so it can still fight with the rest of the band. Witherlings are less powerful than other gnolls but still capable of killing other weak creatures.
Flinds are particularly powerful and gifted gnoll. They’re significantly larger than other gnolls too and there is only ever one in a warband (if any). They are considered to be particularly blessed of Yeenoghu and carry a magical flail that saps the body and mind of any creature it strikes. If a gnoll kills a flind in battle, it will claim its flail and in a burst of abyssal fire, will become a flind itself and lead the warband in its stead. Any other reason for a flind dying will cause a warband to descend into chaos.
Some non-gnoll humanoids might rarely be included in a gnoll warband if they give themselves over to Yeenoghu. Generally, such beings are brutish in nature and are touched by insanity (or are not far from it). They will join in the slaughter of the warband but will rarely lead its efforts. On occassion though, a particular intelligent humanoid might be granted signs and omens from Yeenoghu, and may even be given leadership of a war band, though this is exceptionally rare.
Gnolls will only ally themselves with creatures that have given themselves wholly to Yeenoghu. Typically, these creatures might be demons sent by Yeenoghu to aid the warband, hyenas that follow the death and destruction to fill their bellies, or ghouls, leucrottas or trolls that share in their devotion to Yeenoghu.
You can learn more about gnolls and other creatures of the D&D universe by buying a copy of Volo’s Guide to Monsters.