On the Gnolls of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation
Date: Sat, August 13, 2005
Topic: Peoples & Culture
"Gnolls will kill and eat anything that opposes them. They will kill and eat old members of their clan who can no longer provide for themselves. And, they will kill and eat the weak and crippled among their own young if they have no other food. I must say, I find something truly admirable in that."-Iuz, Lord of Pain.
On the Gnolls of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Nation
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Society and Culture:
Gnolls resemble an ugly cross between man and hyena; their bodies are manlike in shape, but they have the details and hide patterns of hyenas. Their skin is greenish-gray, darker near the muzzle, and reddish yellow in the mane. Perpetually covered in fleas and parasites, never bothering to bathe, splattered with blood, mud and wheezing drool, gnolls are always either leering, sniveling or snarling through the yellowish fangs that protrude from their mouths. Gnolls are constantly on the move, searching for treasure, food and lodging, attacking humans and demihumans to acquire all three. In almost any clime or region, gnolls are a persistent hazard and threat.
Gnolls can dwell in almost any region, save the driest deserts, although they prefer areas with plenty of undergrowth, such as forests and marshes. They are less fond of mountains and highlands than are other humanoid races, preferring to live above ground rather than below. They will construct their own cabins and dwellings if they must, but they vastly prefer to take over the homes of their victims, being lazy and indifferent workers. Gnolls rarely assemble in large cities, preferring to either live among humans in more “tolerant” cities such as Greyhawk, Molag, Dyvers or Rauxes, or to dwell in smaller packs.
These packs are semi-nomadic, picking up and moving when the gnolls have used up all the resources of the area they are living in. They will move to another area, use up all its resources, and then leave and wander until they find another suitable place to settle down. Gnolls are remarkable travelers; despite their very short lifespans, gnolls can easily travel from one end of the Flanaess to another-from Blackmoor to Sunndi, from the County of Ulek to the lands of the Frost Barbarians.
Gnoll society is extremely chaotic, with the largest and strongest males of a given pack fighting and scratching their way to dominance over the rest. Their chiefs are little more than brutes who rule simply because they are the strongest of the pack, Physical strength, fighting prowess, and wealth are the hallmarks of powerful chiefs, but when even they grow old or feeble, the gnolls will just as easily turn on and slay them. Females exist only to tend to the needs and pleasures of the males, and raise the young of the males. They are expected to constantly produce more and more kits, as gnolls are constantly being slain in battle or simply because of their short lifespans.
Gnolls exemplify the rule of the survival of the fittest. Old gnolls who can no longer bear young or hunt for food are slain, as are weak young. The other gnollls feel no remorse on slaying these weaklings, seeing them not as family, but as simply a burden on the pack. Young gnolls learn to survive and fight with each other for meat and food, or they will starve. Gnolls either learn to cook, hunt or fight, and thus survive, or they will perish. It is that simple.
Gnoll government is very simple: the largest and strongest gnoll declares himself chief, and then bullies and forces the rest of the pack into following his course. Other strong male gnolls can question or disobey his orders, which inevitably leads to a bloody fight. The one who survives is usually accepted as the chief. Particularly powerful gnoll chiefs may unite several packs under their command (after slaying other chiefs) and thus call themselves kings. These gnoll kings are the ones most likely to set up in one place for a long period of time, and create their own little “kingdoms” that will inevitably fracture with the death of the king.
General social organization is based on the pack, and gnolls are quite able to leave one pack and join another, as long as they can contribute. Gnolls who have been exiled from their packs may seize control of another and return for revenge, or enlist their aid against a mutual foe. Gnolls do not necessarily recognize other gnoll bands as friends or enemies, but will cooperate for the acquisition of a rich prize or to survive against a foe that threatens all gnolls.
Gnolls can cooperate with orcs and bugbears on raids, and can put up with the way ogres bully them in exchange for letting the stupid lunks take most of the hits in battle. They take a sadistic pleasure in eating kobolds alive, and so are deeply hated by the smaller race. They care nothing for hobgoblins, get on well enough with gnolls, and are content to ignore trolls.
The history of the gnolls is difficult to trace, although like other humanoids they have been a plague on humans and demihumans since before the Great Migrations. Some Flan elders tell a very interesting story about how gnolls came to be, however. They claim that the gnolls were once human beings who ravaged and plundered the Oerth’s riches, giving nothing in return and becoming little more than twisted scavengers.
Their souls were those of monsters, and so the Oerth Mother Beory punished them by tearing the souls away from their bodies. The souls were made flesh, and the men were made to scavenge, devour and kill as gnolls. The bodies of the men were rotten and corrupted, becoming prey for the demonic King of Ghouls. The King’s master, the demon Yeenoghu, took the souls made flesh of the men as his own people: the gnolls.
This explains the tendency of gnolls to kill, pillage and plunder one area of all its riches before moving on to another. The gnolls are simply carrying on the same disgusting habits they did when they were human. It also explains how Yeenoghu enjoys the service of both gnolls and ghouls: he himself has taken the souls of the men, while his servant, the King of Ghouls, has infected their bodies with its own evil power and made them into ghouls. Despite this, gnolls will revere almost any evil deity or being they think can bring them power, whether as powerful as Nerull or as weak as Gaknulak.
They have gotten on well with other humanoid races, and have served for some of the more greedy and evil human conquerors of the Flanaess, although their lack of discipline and savagery makes them unreliable except as shock troops. They have been a scourge on the oerth, and they remain a scourge on humanity to this day.
Famous Gnoll Packs:
The Battlehowl: Currently traveling through the Domain of Greyhawk (as of 591 CY); famous for screeching and howling while wielding torches in night-time raids, much as do gibberlings; famous for wearing the bones of their enemies in their hair and fur; ruled by Chief Karyei-eyeyey.
The Foulpelt: Currently traveling through Nyrond (as of 591 CY); famous for dying and smearing the blood of their enemies on their fur in frightening war-paint designs; famous for looting and seizing the homes of many destitute Nyrondese, ruled by Chief Krezzak.
The Gashclaw: Currently traveling through the Hestmark Highlands (as of 591 CY); famous for fighting many enemies with their bare claws, which they sharpen to a sword’s point; famous for their daring daylight raids; famous for their long-lived chiefs; ruled by King Mezculik Grey-Fur.
The Lowgorge: Currently traveling through the Lortmil Mountains (as of 591 CY); famous for their elaborate courtship practices and ritual mating; famous for being able to fight in formation in battle; ruled by Chief Four-Clawed Grandfather.
The Retchtongue: Currently traveling through the lands of Iuz (as of 591 CY); famous for the way in which their tongues hang from their mouths, leading them to drool and wheeze all over their opponents in melee combat; famous for carving elaborate war-designs on their shields; ruled by Chief Skiklan.
The Scarsavage: Currently traveling through Ahlissa (as of 591 CY); famous for carving elaborate ritual scars on their bodies; famous for riding giant hyaenodons as cavalry; famous for their abilities as archers in times of war; ruled by Chief Narak.