|Images of gnolls
Source: Bestiary, pg(s). 178–179
- The Pathfinder Second Edition Remaster Project renames all gnolls to kholo, a term which previously described a specific gnoll culture in the Mwangi Expanse. The ramifications of this change are expected to be published in Player Core 2.
Gnolls, or hyenafolk, are a humanoid race renowned for their tremendous laziness and brutal tactics. Structuring themselves into packs, gnolls survive through raiding and pillaging and acquiring slaves who facilitate their slothful lifestyles.
Large and powerfully built, gnolls appear as a profane hybrid of humanoid and hyena that stands taller, bulkier, and furrier than a human. The gnoll's upright stance is probably its most humanoid feature, though with a noticeable hyena-like hunch to its back. Their torso is also more humanoid than hyena though still covered in mangy fur, and their muscular arms end in clawed hands as dexterous as a human's.1
Gnolls' legs have the double-jointed legs of a hyena, which gives them an odd lopping-hopping gait when they run on their hind legs. Though capable of walking upright, a gnoll's canine-like hindquarters allow it to drop to all fours like a dog for greater mobility. A gnoll's head is its most hyena-like feature, possessing the hyena's short, blunt muzzle; muscular, bone-crunching jaws; black eyes; and rounded ears.1
Some gnolls leave their clans to work as mercenaries and adventurers, learning new skills, earning wealth, and gaining allies that will one day benefit their people. Other adventuring gnolls have no clan, left orphaned by some disaster or exiled, fairly or not, for some crime. All gnolls are strongly pack-minded and tend to adopt their friends as honorary gnolls and packmates. The ranger is the archetypal gnoll class, a cunning warrior of the wilderness, but gnolls also make excellent barbarians and fighters, and their love of clever tricks make them outstanding rogues.2
Gnolls live in Avistan, Garund, and across Casmaron, although they are most common in the hot deserts of Garund and Casmaron.3 Gnolls prefer hot deserts and warm plains, although they can also live in warm mountains and sunny forests, and sometimes even underground.4
Gnolls are at their most numerous in the deserts and mountains of Katapesh, which they consider their god-given homeland, and barely tolerate its other more civilised inhabitants. So numerous are the gnolls of Katapesh that an entire district of the capital, Dog Town, is devoted to them and the slave trade they bring in.5 Gnolls can also be found amongst the deserts of Nex,6 Osirion, Thuvia, and Rahadoum. They used to be found in Geb and the deserts that are now the Mana Wastes; however, centuries of magical warfare drove the gnolls that once dwelt there to seek safer pastures.✝7
Gnolls are less common in Avistan, generally sticking to warm forests and plains rather than deserts; they can be found in small bands in the wilds of the disorganized River Kingdoms and chaotic Galt, but also live in the more organised Razmiran and even in parts of Kyonin. Avistani gnolls have been on the decline ever since the fall of ancient Thassilon; before Earthfall, they were citizens of Haruka, the domain of Krune, Runelord of Sloth, where their laziness was appreciated and they served as fearsome slave drivers valued, as well as scouts and forward observers in Krune's armies. With the Earthfall, the gnolls' population was halved and most fled what would become Varisia in order to find easier hunting grounds.7
Gnolls of Garund's Mwangi Expanse refer to themselves as kholo, and their culture focuses on the pragmatic. They view efficiency as a moral imperative, eschew concepts like honor, and employ ruthless ambush tactics and terror to ensure their victory in battle. Such tactics make them inherent enemies of many of their neighbors, though their culture extends a degree of respect to strong foes.2
Gnolls, despite their intelligence, interact with the natural world more like animals rather than humanoids as they do not alter their environment.1 In fact, despite their vicious nature, they are normally good for the surrounding environment as they are scavengers without compare, happily wolfing down rancid carrion left by more discerning creatures. While capable predators the average gnoll hunter does very little actual hunting as that requires too much effort, they much prefer to drive weaker predators from their kills though the prospect of more slaves is enough to rouse them to action. Gnolls apply this scavenging to looting and stealing clothes, armour, weapons, even their homes from others. Perhaps it is no wonder that gnolls are such prolific slavers when they have no interest in doing anything labour intensive themselves.8
A gnoll's life is comparatively short and violent. In gnoll societies that venerate Lamashtu, they typically start life not born naturally but instead through crude, brutal caesarians as they are ripped from the womb in their first tribute to the Mother of Monsters. In rare instances a gnoll pup chews its way free from its mother's womb, and such a vicious gnoll is considered destined for greatness in such societies; powerful leaders of many tribes were born of such violence.1
Gnoll pups are typically delivered in litters numbering between three and five. Young gnolls are dangerous by their third year and physically mature by their 8th year. Females are normally fertile between their 10th and 18th years, and in some gnoll cultures those who have not given birth or been favoured by the goddess by age 15 are sacrificed to appease her.1
The average lifespan of a gnoll is approximately 28 years, and while most make it into their thirties, many die young from violence. In such societies, only the most canny and lucky gnolls ever see their 40th birthday.1 However, in less brutal societies such as among the kholo, gnolls can average natural lifespans of 60 years and live past 100 years.2
For gnolls, the pack is everything. None would choose a life alone,4 and they always travel in packs, normally with a single male leader who takes on a lofty, often pretentious title like "Emperor", "Consort of Lamashtu" or "King of all Gnolls". The leader maintains their position through violence, and their authority extends only as far as their claws can reach.1
Gnolls normally rove in small packs of a few hunters, though their definition of hunting is more like scavenging.1 Typically these tribes only grow as large as two hundred3 but they can get much larger when led by a truly exceptional leader like the Carrion King. Every region infested with gnolls has one larger, more successful band led by the strongest gnoll whose influence can be felt throughout the region.1
Despite their often vicious behavior, gnolls see little to be gained from warring between themselves since they never enslave other gnolls.8 Despite their chaotic nature, gnoll society has a strict set of laws that revolve around the group. From birth, gnolls are taught that the good of the pack outweighs that of the individual. These laws are deeply skewed as there is no punishment for killing a non-gnoll (unless he was a pack mate's slave) while forcing another gnoll to work incurs the harshest penalty.
In gnoll society one punishment is feared above all: exile. It is considered worse than death to be condemned to endless loneliness. Those exiled either seek new companions amongst non-gnolls like orcs or trolls, or seek a swift and final death. When exiled, the gnoll is shaved and then scarred to forever mark them as banished. Only the most heinous crimes in gnoll culture, such as forcing a gnoll to work, betraying gnolls to their racial enemies, worshipping a deity not associated with Lamashtu, or freeing a slave, are punished by exile.9
Pale Mountain Gnolls
The Pale Mountain is located near the junction of the Brazen Peaks and the Barrier Wall of northwest Katapesh. It is avoided by travellers as it is known to be the haunt of numerous tribes of gnolls, ruled by the Carrion King.10 From his throne upon Pale Mountain's slopes, the Carrion King commands hundreds of gnolls. Among the ramshackle hordes, bands of raiders and slavers, and lone murderers, four noteworthy tribes serve the warlord: Al'Chorhaiv, The Circle, Three Jaws and Wormhollow.11
Religion and mythology
Many gnolls are devout followers of Lamashtu, the Mother of Monsters, and reverence for her suffuses nearly all aspects of such gnolls' lives. This worship somewhat conflicts with these gnoll societies' misogynistic tendencies but also strictly defines the female's role: they are either holy priestess or sacred mother, and if they are neither then they are sacrificed to appease Lamashtu.8
In these societies, gnoll priesthood can be split into the female clerics and the male shamans, where females generally perform the more ritualistic aspects of worship like preparing sacrifices, overseeing births, and hunting down heretics, and males tend to more common activities like giving unholy sermons and casting healing spells. Gnoll priestesses regard themselves as mothers of their flock serving as teachers and caretakers of their pack; this is not always figurative as they view giving birth to monstrous offspring as a sacred duty and are notoriously fecund. Most priestesses spend much of their life pregnant with their distended bellies bearing the scars of violent births.8
In an attempt to mimic their goddess's form, male shamans go through a ritual trepanation to open up a hole, supposedly a mystical third eye, in the middle of their forehead; they sometimes even fill this new orifice with eyes stolen from sacrificial victims.9
- See also: Kholo
The matriarchal kholo of the Mwangi Expanse are a notable exception. Leadership roles among kholo clans are reserved for women, and women most commonly fill roles of spiritual and historical advisement. Lamashtu is rarely worshiped among the kholo as a deity of last resort, preferring instead Calistria, Shelyn, and Nethys.2
For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.
- Classic Monsters Revisited, 11. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “People of the Mwangi” in The Mwangi Expanse, 111. Paizo Inc., .
- “Monsters A to Z” in Bestiary, 155. Paizo Inc., 2009 .
- Classic Monsters Revisited, 10. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Land of Adventure” in Dark Markets, A Guide to Katapesh, 16. Paizo Inc., 2009 .
- “3 Age of Lost Omens” in GM Core, 158. Paizo Inc., .
- Classic Monsters Revisited, 14. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- Classic Monsters Revisited, 12. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- Classic Monsters Revisited, 13. Paizo Inc., 2008 .
- “Land of Adventure” in Dark Markets, A Guide to Katapesh, 4. Paizo Inc., 2009 .
- Howl of the Carrion King, 56ff. Paizo Inc., 2009 .