Where Do Gnolls Come From In DnD 5e?

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  • Using Gnolls In A Campaign

Among the many creatures you can slay in Dungeons & Dragons, Gnolls appear to be the most savage of the lot. While tribes of Goblins can do considerable damage, Gnolls will raze everything to the ground, leaving no survivors or even corpses since they feast on them.


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Origin Of Gnolls

Demonic Gnoll with human heads tied to his hair like decoration
Targ Nar, Demon-Fang Gnoll by Tyler Jacobson

The origin of the Gnolls differs greatly from one D&D edition to the next, so we’ll only focus on what the 5th edition covers. The Gnolls are creatures related to Yeenoghu, a Demon Lord from the Abyss and the chief deity of their culture.

Yeenoghu is a Huge Demon Lord that looks like a humanoid hyena, with some added demonic features like glowing red eyes and a deformed jaw. He traveled the realms, followed by a large pack of hyenas that gorged on whatever he slayed.

The hyenas were not made by Yeenoghu; they’re just animals like in the real world. How he first developed the ability to control them is unexplained.

As these hyenas ate, they became bloated with the meat and Yeenoghu’s demonic essence, giving birth to the first Gnolls. While Gnolls can naturally reproduce, they can also recreate this demonic ritual, which has advantages; the Gnolls created in this way are fully grown.

Gnoll Society

Dungeons & Dragons Gnoll pack raiding a village
Via Wizards of the Coast

Gnolls value strength over all other things, making the leadership of their pack constantly challenged. In all other respects, they’re extremely loyal to one another, putting the pack above everything; if you’re welcomed into the pack, no matter your species, you’re family.

Their savagery is the one common aspect among all Gnoll tribes, but how evil they behave depends on how closely they worship Yeenoghu. Some tribes only hunt animals and keep to themselves, while others constantly hunt until nothing is left alive.

Players most commonly see gnolls that worship the Demon Lord, since they work perfectly as enemies to fill any dungeon. They raid any settlement, eating the fallen as they go and offering sacrifices of their weak to Yeenoghu.

Using Gnolls In A Campaign

Dungeons & Dragons image showing a party of three players being surrounded by Gnolls
You Come to the Gnoll Camp by Billy Christian

Gnolls are designed to be mindless enemies, creatures that are evil to the core. Since they value strength, you can make them minions of greater foes without explaining their allegiance too much, and their innate loyalty will make them always fight to the death.

If you want a tribe of Gnolls as enemies and wish to avoid any moral dilemmas, you can have them reproduce exclusively via Yeenoghu’s ritual. This makes them more akin to Demons than humanoids, and you don’t have to worry about your party encountering little Gnoll cubs.

If you want to give them added depth, or if a player wishes to play as a Gnoll, it’s best to leave their Demonic heritage aside. They can still be savage enemies but not exclusively evil, and they could even end up as loyal allies if players play their cards right.

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