by Matthew Pook
There comes a time when the lowly orc or goblin is no
longer a worthy foe to your players. In its favour, the new Dungeons & Dragons
gives the monstrous humanoid - humble or not - a burst of life by allowing them to
become classed NPCs, typically rogues, fighters or clerics. Eventually though,
cannon fodder needs to be a little tougher, and once you're past orcs and
hobgoblins, you're onto gnolls. Just as with The Slayer's Guide To
Hobgoblins, Mongoose Publishing aims to set the record straight and make something
more of the Gnoll race than mere bodies to fall upon the tips of your
The Slayer's Guide To Gnolls is the second d20 release from
this British publisher. Each entry in the series aims to add depth to the DM's
portrayal of a particular race, often poorly treated. The 32-page book almost
adheres to the high standards set by the first release, but is let down by the
occasional typographical error. One improvement is the cover, which is on a
glossy card stock and the actual art is far more striking than that which
appeared on the front of the hobgoblins book. Inside the art is of a lesser
quality than before, mostly due to the lack of illustrations by Chris Quilliams.
Overall, this is still a decent looking book.
Every facet of the gnolls as a species is examined in detail in the
supplement Ð physiology, psychology, habitat, society and methods of
war. What is clear from this is that the gnoll is lazy, vicious,
ill-tempered, self-centred and greedy. Though not intelligent by human
standards, they are not stupid, but rather, driven by deep
instinct. Occasionally that instinct can get the better of them, such as
when their constant and sometimes driving hunger pushes them into
battle. Even their excellent skills in laying ambush (the only time they show
any patience) are largely concealed by single-minded viciousness.
Gnolls can be seen as the barbarians of the humanoid
world. Their innate laziness prevents them from building any kind of civilisation.
As a whole, gnolls prefer to employ slaves to extend and build the defences of the burrows
they steal cuckoo-like from other races. Slaves also maintain the weapons and
armour that gnolls take into battle. Of course, slaves rarely last long in a
gnoll lair; if the brutality of their new masters does not kill them, the gnoll
predisposition for the taste of humanoids flesh certainly
will in short order. Gnoll society follows this continued pattern, with a male
dominated pecking order being determined by short brutal fights, which rarely end
in death. Their religion is limited, but when a true cleric becomes part of the
pack, or 'kuunalla,' they usually have the power to become its leader.
this information comes together in the section on roleplaying gnolls. This
details not just how run them in the game, but also how to play them as player
characters. The Guide advises this as only being suitable for all-gnoll
groups, as their self-centred greedy nature and hatred of other species makes
their continued co-operation with anyone other than their own kind unlikely.
To illustrate the book in action, the author describes a gnoll burrow near the
now lifeless village of Edenvale. This is a two-level burrow combined with a
rough stockade built on the surface, and is drawn very nicely. While this may
come across as simply a location for the players to attack and destroy, it can be
used in combination with the provided scenario hooks and ideas to form the center
of a mini-campaign that could re-educate the players as to the dangerousness of
the gnoll foe.
The Slayer's Guide To Gnolls is an excellent follow-up to the
book on hobgoblins. It may prove a less useful sourcebook in the long
run, though, as the barbarous, unchanging nature of the gnolls will
serve to limit them as a foe. However, the setting of Edenvale does go
some way to countering this perception, and shows how effective the
Gnolls can be. The Slayer's Guide To Gnolls is definitely useful
for lovers of gnolls and anyone wanting to use them more effectively.