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Reviews: Slayer's Guide to Gnolls
 
by Matthew Pook


Slayer's Guide to
Gnolls coverThere 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 player's swords.

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 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.

All of 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.


 

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