Friday, May 22, 2009

Gnolls

I've never been overly fond of the idea of gnolls. They just don't seem to have a place in the campaign world. Hyena headed humanoids? What do you do with them?

Anyway, a picture that was part of the online Dragon Magazine article on Yeenoghu, the Demon-prince of Gnolls, made me change my mind a bit. Here's a cropped portion of it, the part which shows a couple actual, regular gnolls. This picture made me want to find a place in my settings to use them.

So, what I've stumbled upon is combining them with my militaristic hobgoblin empire, Kurushat. What if the hobgoblins worshipped a being not too unlike Yeenoghu (Yinigu, to give it some differences but still a facile familiarity. Sorta like how Clark Ashton Smith and Howard Phillips Lovecraft would deliberately spell names differently when they borrowed them from each other.) Gnolls could be "the Chosen of Yinigu"; hobgoblins who, upon undergoing a ritual, undergo a painful mutation process if they are, in fact, chosen of Yinigu (otherwise, of course, they die) they become gnolls, and are given an elite place in hobgoblin society and the military; a sort martial chaplain, or holy warrior of sorts.

To me, that's infinitely more interesting than the cliche of gnoll bandits and highwaymen.

4 comments:

Badelaire said...

I've always liked Gnolls. I much prefer enemy humanoids who are less orc/goblin/hobgoblin and more "beast-men" like, so Gnolls, Bugbears, Minotaurs - strange amalgam creatures appeal to me more than the whole goblinoid races deal.

I also think the hyena-esque characteristics of gnolls fits very well with the idea of the evil humanoid. Treat them much like a typical hyena pack - attacking the weak, fearing the strong, fighting only as long as they have the upper hand, and willing to fight dirty but not stand when they start taking casualties, cruel but not brave - works very well in my mind.

Long live the Gnollpack!

Joshua said...

I tend not to like the whole concept of "evil humanoid" in the first place. The whole "we can automatically kill them and still be Good because, well geez, they're wearing the Team Evil jerseys, right?"

That said, I've always like the idea of the orcs and goblinoids. While reading Tolkien, I find them tons more intrigueing than the elves. Granted, in Tolkien there is the explicit "wearing Team Evil jerseys" bit with them, but there's also a bit of pathos to them, if you do some digging through his writings. The orcs were wronged and corrupted but they didn't necessarily do it to themselves. And occasionally they do show some admirable traits; loyalty to each other, for example, and some pride in who they are.

Rather than have the gnolls be stereotypical animal-headed evil monsters, I like to present humanoids as essentially human... just with some differences. The gradual move in fantasy overall of the last few years of migrating orcs and goblinoids away from being simply "monsters" into being "humanoids" is a fascinating one to me, since I was independently going that same route.

Joshua said...

In fact, come to think of it, I often make my humans the most monstrous of the opponents that my PC's face. I'm not quite sure if there's some weird psychological subconscious thing going on there, or if it's just that it makes for a more complex scenario, but I do that frequently. Not that my hobgoblin empires don't tend to be aggressive, militaristic, xenophobic and otherwise very unpleasant. But it's the humans who are the real monsters.

Badelaire said...

Oh, I'm perfectly fine with "evil humanoids", but that's because I tend to follow the idea that beastmen such as Gnolls, Bugbears, Minotaurs, and the like are typically races created by dark magics or malicious gods, and therefore their "evil" natures are much more hard-coded into them.

That a gnoll isn't some kind of humanoid version of a canine creature that somehow evolved into a speaking, upright-walking, tool-using species parallel to mankind, but rather a race engineered for the purposes of mayhem and slaughter, works better for me, and frankly, for my players, who don't much care to deal with the pathos of the bugbear, but rather, more in finding the chinks in their armor - literally.

As to the Evil Human idea - I can understand that completely. I also tend to make the architects of most "evil plots" a human of some form or another, because - as you often see depicted in film, TV, and literature, humankind in fantasy and sci-fi are often the most highly focused, highly motivated, and often ego-driven of races. We are usually depicted as having the perfect blend of life span, intelligence, creativity, and drive to achieve, which culminates in either great good or great evil.