The Slayer's Guide to Gnolls is the second in a series designed to take a fresh and detailed look at a range of 'monster' races. The primary objective is to empower the DM to run more interesting and fully rounded opposition for the characters to interact with, but notes are also provided for the more adventurous players who would like to experiment with more exotic races as characters.
The Guide contains detailed information about gnolls – their anatomy and physiology, social structures, customs and habits – everything you need to know to present these creatures as a 'real' society to your players. What do gnolls eat, when they cannot get an adventurer or two into the pot? How are little gnolls born and raised? Answers to these and many more questions can be found within these pages.
Interspersed with the information are 'eyewitness accounts' and other in character material written by and about gnolls. Some of this should convince the players that you don't want to mess with gnolls and you really do not want to become one of their slaves!
A gnoll's main objectives are to survive and to satisfy his desires. Anything else is subordinate to this two basic drives. DMs wishing to use gnolls as monsters or NPCs, or players wishing to play gnoll characters, won't go far wrong with these as guides.
However, while it would be hard to find a 'softer side' to your average gnoll, they are more than hedonistic killing machines. They do have families and packs, although both are structured around a pecking order based on strength alone. Gnoll religion is simple, and 'worship' seems synonymous with a good party; but there are a few clerics who usually revere deities of slaughter rather than the Demon Lord normally regarded as the gnollish patron deity, or even the moon that is the focus of their regular religious activities.
Their economy is largely based on slave labour, slaves drawn from those unlucky enough not to be slain outright during gnoll raids. Gnolls are unwilling, even in the face of a more dominant gnoll, to put much effort into anything beyond fighting, hunting and eating; so slaves are vital to get anything much done. The section about gnoll culture in general ends with details of their methods of warfare, preferred weapons and tactics.
From here, the book continues with an analysis of 'Role-Playing With Gnolls' – information centred on using the material so far presented to make gnolls within your game world 'real' with their own definite and distinct natures, rather than just a collection of statistics for the characters to cut down in passing.
The 'conventional' approach of using the material to develop well-thought-out gnoll parties and strongholds for the characters to encounter is well provided for, with a series of scenario seeds all of which could propel the party into a meeting with the gnoll pack; culminating in a fully-detailed gnoll lair for the characters to visit (read 'attack').
For those players who fancy running a gnoll character, the racial traits and other useful information are presented in standard format. Sensibly, it is recommended that PC Gnolls be treated with care, probably best played as a group of gnolls or with some good reason as to just why a gnoll should be found mixing with more conventional races, with whom mutual hatred rather than fellowship is likely.
Overall, this book presents a clear account of its subject – far more than just a slayer's guide. It should appeal to anyone who enjoys 'Monster Ecology' type material or who wants to add depth and 'realism' to their game world. The depth and clarity of the information presented is commendable. The material will work best when read through while the game is being planned, rather than as a ready reference during play, although selected portions of it might be recounted to the characters by sages or other individuals who have made a study of gnolls.
Players intending to run Gnoll PCs should possibly be permitted to read the book in its entirety, but I feel that it could spoil the enjoyment of other players to dip freely into it until they have had in game reason to discover the information in its pages.
Thoroughly recommended, and the series as a whole should build up into a useful reference to supplement and extend the material in the Monster Manual and other such tomes.
Return to The Slayer's Guide to Gnolls page.
Reviewed: 11 August 2008