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DnD Gnoll.png
An illustration of two Gnolls.
First appearanceDungeons & Dragons (1974)
Based onHow Nuth Would Have Practised His Art upon the Gnoles

A gnoll is a fictional creature in the Dungeons & Dragons game, which resembles a humanoid hyena.[1]

Publication history[edit]

Original conceptions[edit]

The creature described as the gnole first appeared in 1912, in Lord Dunsany's story "How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art upon the Gnoles", and reappeared in Margaret St. Clair's The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles. In Middle English the word noll could refer to a stupid or very drunk person.[2]

Lord Dunsany's story gives little or nothing in the way of physical description of the gnoles, but they live on the edge of a sinister wood and watch intruders through holes bored in trees. They are said to own emeralds of very large size. In St. Clair's story, they also live on the edge of a wood, watch through holes bored in trees and prize emeralds, but a "senior gnole" is described as looking "like a Jerusalem artichoke" and, although he has feet, has tentacles rather than arms and no ears. His eyes are small, red and faceted like a gemstone.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)[edit]

The gnoll, as introduced in the earliest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game, is the literary descendant of Lord Dunsany's "gnoles", who were clever, evil and non-human. In the Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974), gnolls are described thusly: "A cross between gnomes and trolls (...perhaps, Lord Dunsany did not really make it all that clear) with +2 morale. Otherwise, they are similar to hobgoblins..."[3]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977–1988)[edit]

With the 1977 publication of Gygax's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual gnolls were described as hyena-men, a characterization that continues to the present. This book also describes Yeenoghu, a demon lord that many gnolls devote themselves to.[4]

The flind, a more intelligent but less physically powerful relative to the more common gnoll, was introduced in the Fiend Folio (1981).[5]

The mythology and attitudes of the gnolls are described in detail in Dragon #63 (July 1982), in Roger E. Moore's article, "The Humanoids." The article also describes the shoosuva, servants of Yeenoghu that have characteristics of both gnolls and ghouls.[6]

The first "Creature Catalog" article, an insert in Dragon #89 (September 1984), featured the ghuuna, a lycanthrope-like creature that could transform between a gnoll and hyaenodon form.

Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1999)[edit]

This edition of the D&D game included its own version of the gnoll, in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977, 1981, 1983).[7][8][9] The gnoll was featured as a player character race in the gazetteer The Orcs of Thar (1989). Gnolls were also later featured in the Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1991), the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991),[10] the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1994), and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game set (1999).[11]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)[edit]

The gnoll and flind appear first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989),[12] and are reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).[13]

The flind is also detailed in Dragon #173 (September 1991), in "The Sociology of the Flind", a variation on the "Ecology of..." column.[14]

The gnoll and flind are detailed as playable character races in The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993).[15] The gnoll and flind are later presented as playable character races again in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).[16]

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000–2007)[edit]

The gnoll appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000).[17]

The gnoll appears in the revised 3.5 Monster Manual (2003).[17]

The flind appears in Monster Manual III (2004).[18] Its characterization here is the opposite of previous versions - more physically powerful, but also more bestial and brutish in character.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008–2014)[edit]

The gnoll appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008), including the gnoll huntmaster, the gnoll claw fighter, the gnoll marauder, and the gnoll demonic scourge.[19]

The gnoll was later released as a supported 4th edition player race in Dragon #367.[20]

The gnoll also appeared in the Monster Manual 2 (2009), which features the Deathpledged Gnoll, the Fang of Yeenoghu (a Gnoll shaman), and the cannibalistic Gnoll Gorger.[21]

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014–)[edit]

The Gnoll appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2014), including the Gnoll, the Fang of Yeenoghu shaman, and the Gnoll Packlord.[22] Volo's Guide to Monsters, released November 2016, further expands the gnoll's ecology.


In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, gnolls greatly resemble humanoid hyenas.[4] They are usually between 7 and 8 feet (2.1–2.4 m) tall, weighing around 250 to 320 pounds (110–150 kg),[17] and use armor made of horn, metal, or leather.[4] Gnolls are generally depicted in the game world as feral nomads who kill and pillage without warning.[19] Their whole bodies are covered in reddish-brown fur which becomes shorter as it surrounds their faces and clawed hands to reveal grey colored skin. Their pelts vary from mono-colored to spotted and their eyes are either yellow or black.


Within the context of the Dungeons & Dragons game, one notable subrace of gnoll is the flind, which is shorter, broader, and stronger than other gnolls;[18] flinds are often found leading a tribe or settlement of gnolls.[18] Flinds use a nunchaku-like weapon called a flindbar, which consists of a pair of metal rods linked together by a chain.[18]


Gnolls in most Dungeons & Dragons settings are worshippers of the demon lord Yeenoghu, who also holds domain over ghouls. Gnolls indulge in humanoid flesh in imitation of this aspect.[23]

Other appearances[edit]

Gnolls feature in the Discworld series novel Jingo (and others in the series) by Terry Pratchett. They are small, matted and dirty enough to sprout fungi and grasses on their hides (and seem to relate to soil as trolls relate to rock), and act as street-cleaners in cities like Ankh-Morpork; as Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson puts it, they "pick up this, pick up that, maybe bang it against the wall until it stops struggling..." In the case of at least Stoolie, if not every gnoll on the Discworld, there seems to be a tendency to drop the vowels in words, reflecting a croaking sort of voice.[24]

Other publishers[edit]

The gnoll is fully detailed in Paizo Publishing's book Classic Monsters Revisited (2008), on pages 10–15.[25]


  1. Peter Gilliver; Jeremy Marshall; E. S. C. Weiner (2006), The ring of words, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-861069-4
  2. Richard the Redeless (anon. c.1399) "Though þis be derklich endited ffor a dulle nolle..."; Thomas Drant, Horace, Satires (trans.) (1566) "We call him goose and disarde doulte and fowlye fatted nowle" quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary
  3. Gygax, Gary; Arneson, Dave (1974). Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set). TSR. Search this book on Logo.png
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual (TSR, 1977)
  5. Turnbull, Don, ed. Fiend Folio (TSR, 1981)
  6. Moore, Roger E. "The Humanoids." Dragon #63 (TSR, 1982)
  7. Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by J. Eric Holmes. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR, 1977)
  8. Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Tom Moldvay. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (TSR, 1981)
  9. Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson [1974], edited by Frank Mentzer. Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules (TSR, 1983)
  10. Allston, Aaron, Steven E. Schend, Jon Pickens, and Dori Watry. Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (TSR, 1991)
  11. Slavicsek, Bill. Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (TSR, 1999)
  12. Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  13. Stewart, Doug, ed. Monstrous Manual (TSR, 1993)
  14. Jones, Spike Y. "The Sociology of the Flind." Dragon #173 (TSR, 1991)
  15. Slavicsek, Bill. The Complete Book of Humanoids (TSR, 1993)
  16. Niles, Douglas and Dale Donovan. Player's Option: Skills & Powers (TSR, 1995)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Cook, Monte, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2000)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Burlew, Rich, et al. Monster Manual III (Wizards of the Coast, 2004)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2008)
  20. Baker, Keith. "Playing Gnolls." Dragon #367 (Wizards of the Coast, 2008)
  21. Heinsoo, Rob; Schubert, Stephen (2009). Monster Manual 2. Wizards of the Coast. pp. 127–128. ISBN 978-0-7869-5101-7. Search this book on Logo.png
  22. Mearls, Mike, Stephen Schubert, and James Wyatt. p. 162–163, Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2014)
  23. Sargent, Carl (1992). Monster Mythology. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-362-0. Search this book on Logo.png
  24. Pratchett, Terry (1997). Jingo. USA: Victor Gollancz. ISBN 0-552-14598-X. Search this book on Logo.png
  25. Baur, Wolfgang, Jason Bulmahn, Joshua J. Frost, James Jacobs, Nicolas Logue, Mike McArtor, James L. Sutter, Greg A. Vaughan, Jeremy Walker. Classic Monsters Revisited (Paizo, 2008)

Further reading[edit]

  • Pramas, Chris. "Chainmail: The Gnolls of Naresh." Dragon #289 (Paizo Publishing, 2001).

External links[edit]

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