Gnolls 5e: Stats and Guide for Players & DMs

There are a lot of vile creatures in 5e, but few are as absolutely menacing as the gnolls. Sure, they’re not as powerful as dragons. They’re not as scheming as devils. All that doesn’t change the fact that coming across a group of gnolls is a bad time for an adventurer. 

In this article, we’re going to be looking into what these hyena-like creatures really are, how much you should be afraid of them, and everything else that’s noteworthy about this iconic D&D race.

Before we get too deep into descriptions and adventure hooks, let’s look at some basic gnoll information to kick things off. 

Stat Block: Gnoll

Medium Humanoid (Gnoll), Chaotic Evil

  • Armor Class: 15 (hide armor, shield)
  • Hit Points: 22 (5d8)
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • STR 14 (+2), DEX 12 (+1), CON 11 (+0), INT 6 (-2), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 7 (-2)
  • Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
  • Languages: Gnoll
  • Challenge: 1/2 (100 XP)
  • Proficiency Bonus: +2

Rampage. When the gnoll reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack on its turn, the gnoll can take a bonus action to move up to half its speed and make a bite attack.

ACTIONS

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.

Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage, or 6 (1d8 + 2) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.

Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range 150/600 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage.

What Is a Gnoll?

Gnolls are a race of hyena-like humanoids. The first gnolls were transformed by demonic magic to be followers of Yeenoghu, and the race today continues to worship the Demon Lord of savagery. They are a truly dangerous enemy to come across as their only goals are to slaughter and shed blood in Yeenoghu’s name.

Suggested Encounters for Gnolls

  • Suggested Party Size: 3-4
  • Suggested Party Level: 3-4

Quick Tactics for Gnolls

  • Stealth
    • Surprising their prey
    • Laying crude traps beforehand
  • Savage, uncoordinated attacks

Gnolls are ambush predators with an insatiable amount of blood lust. They’ll find weak targets and take them out first so they can overwhelm anyone who looks strong. More than anything, they will be vicious attackers that have no problem completely ganging up on one target and then moving on.

In-Depth Look at Gnolls

Describing gnolls as humanoid hyenas is fairly accurate, but trust me, there’s no humanity in these creatures. They are little more than standing hyenas with an ability to speak and hold weapons. In fact, their bestial ancestors might be a bit more forgiving.

Gnolls: Brutal Savages

Unlike most of the generic low-CR enemies in D&D, gnolls actually stand at an average of 7 feet tall and are incredibly lean and muscular. Compared to the diminutive builds of kobolds and goblins, gnolls are actually imposing creatures, but their monstrous attributes don’t stop at the physical.

Gnolls are, first and foremost, vicious savages. If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that a gnoll would sooner slaughter its entire family than take a day off from violence. This is what makes gnolls so dangerous — it’s not their incredible strength or innate magical abilities; it’s their incredible bloodthirst that make gnolls some of the most feared foes in D&D.

The exact origin of gnolls isn’t very clear, although it’s widely believed that Yeenoghu created them and that this is where their pension for murder began. After all, Yeenoghu himself is a sort of hyena-like humanoid who holds dominion over savage violence. It makes sense that he would create followers in his image and set them to do his bidding in the mortal world.

This theory is further backed up by the knowledge that Yeenoghu himself does not have the strength to actually pass between planes into the mortal world. Instead, he must rely on the devotion of his followers to gain strength and cleanse the world of the weak.

Regardless of their origin, gnolls worship the demon lord in their actions. They aren’t incredibly religious, and few shamans or clerics of Yeenoghu even exist. Still, they engage in senseless bloodshed as a means of ritual sacrifice to their patron deity.

This bit about senseless bloodshed is probably the most important to remember. While gnolls are carnivores and killing is necessary for their survival, they kill far more than they could ever need to sustain themselves. 

Unlike some other favorite baddies, gnolls aren’t in it for the power either. Sure, they steal what they can since they can’t be bothered to make their own weapons or armor, but they’re just as happy burning a village to the ground as they are ambushing poor travelers on the road. 

When inserting gnolls into your game, you can let go of the storytelling reins a bit. Save the well-thought-out motivations for liches and cultists; gnolls are just happy to get some killing in. 

Running Gnolls in 5e Combat

The savagery of gnolls makes a direct translation to their performance in combat. They’re here to kill, and they’ll achieve that humble goal by any means necessary. While they aren’t tactical masterminds, they will employ ambush tactics if they don’t have the strength to overpower their foes in a fair fight.

While the gnolls themselves don’t need any real motivation, it’s important to at least start by deciding why a group of gnolls is going toe to toe with your heroes in the first place. There are a few ways to introduce gnolls into an adventure, and we’ll touch on how each of these methods affects the combat potential of this race.

Random Encounters With Gnolls

Perhaps the most common place you’ll see gnolls is in a random encounter. They make for a fun delineation from the big three (goblins, kobolds, and cultists) and can provide a varying level of difficulty due to their loose definition of a “pack.” 

A random encounter is easy to pack a small bit of background into, even if it’s mostly unnecessary. Gnolls are ambush hunters for the most part and can easily be hiding in *insert terrain here* just waiting for a group of three to four adventurers to come stumbling by. 

Of course, since gnolls may end up working for more sinister forces — senseless violence for money is still senseless violence — gnolls might be a great tool for retrieval of some artifact. If your heroes have been tasked with the safe transport of some object or person, gnolls are a great random encounter to try tripping them up. 

Still, most random encounters are just that, and gnolls fit the bill perfectly. You can outfit an appropriate amount of gnolls for your party’s size and level, and then just let them loose. 

If you’re using only the normal CR ½ stat block for the basic gnoll, combat will be uninspired, and that’s fine. These basic gnolls just attack whatever’s in front of them, possibly ganging up on a larger foe if there’s a clearly imposing barbarian in the midst. 

Add some other gnoll varieties into the mix, and you can employ basic tactics, but you should still be favoring the most violent decision over the most tactical decision.

Gnoll Raiders

If you want to incorporate gnolls into a more planned adventure, they make excellent candidates for raiders of small villages that your adventurers might be tasked with protecting. In this case, you actually have multiple options, or paths, for your players to explore that can drastically change the sort of combat they’ll be experiencing.

While you can have a surprise raid and see how your players handle it with no prep time, it makes more sense to have villagers mention the raiding gnolls ahead of time. With that information, they might decide to go hunting for the gnolls, or they might want to hunker down and fight alongside the townspeople.

More than likely, they’ll do something unsuspected, but what they actually do doesn’t matter so much. All you need to be concerned with is the rough size of the gnoll pack and how many gnolls will travel in smaller bands. 

With this information, you’ve set up everything you need for waves of raiders, coordinated attacks in different areas of the town, and even a surprise assault from the heroes at the gnoll camp.

If things do make it back to the gnoll camp, remember that gnolls are hunters, not soldiers. They won’t have patrols, although they’ll probably surround their camps with a litany of primitive traps. Players will still have to be incredibly cunning even if they make it past the traps though since gnolls tend to travel in large groups.

With a raid, you’ll likely want the gnolls split up into smaller groups. This can be a sort of wave-battle scenario, or, more likely, it will play out with the smaller gnoll groups attacking weak points in the town. 

This is the basis for gnolls when it comes to raiding. Attack weak points, and then retreat. Before the townspeople can recover, come again, and attack the new weak points. Do this enough nights in a row, and the town will crumble, allowing you to take all the spoils you want.

Gnoll Variety

Technically speaking, there’s a good amount of variety in the gnoll race. There are five different types of gnolls with stat blocks, and that doesn’t include the gnoll vampire and gnoll witherlings since undead gnolls certainly aren’t standard in a pack.

The actual variety of these different stat blocks mostly comes down to how many attacks they can make, but for gnolls, this isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for gnolls to have any innate magical abilities, so a more skilled gnoll making an extra attack or using a better weapon actually makes sense.

And, we do see some abilities that can make classes of gnolls feel different enough without being unrealistic.

For starters, all gnolls get the rampage ability you can see in the stat block above. This feature lets a gnoll move at half their speed and make an attack as a bonus action, painting a nice picture of the bloodthirst inherent in the race.

Moving up the CR ladder, gnoll hunters don’t actually have much to enforce their roles as stealth specialists, but they do have an interesting bonus effect to their longbow attacks. This ranged weapon allows them to reduce a target’s speed by 10 feet until the end of its next turn. 

With two of these attacks, it can mostly immobilize a creature, allowing the gnoll to stay in the woods and pick off its enemies.

The CR 1 flesh gnawer provides a sort of contrast to the stealthy approach of hunters with a sudden rush ability that increases their speed by 60 feet and prevents them from provoking opportunity attacks. This single action is like a combination of Dash and Disengage with an extra 30 feet of movement thrown in for fun.

These gnolls can put themselves exactly where they need to be with no ill effects, whether that means retreating or rushing up to an enemy.

Then, we get the CR 2 gnoll pack lord, meant to be the very clear leader of a pack with an ability that backs that up. Not only do pack lords have a variety of weapons and better stats than their allies, but they also have a recharge action called Incite Rampage. 

Incite Rampage allows a creature with the rampage trait (likely another gnoll) to move up to 30 feet and make a melee attack. This is a recharge action for the pack lord, meaning they’ll have to roll a 5 or 6 to use it after the first time, but they can hypothetically use it every turn. This sort of ability has a great impact on the action economy and makes this creature feel like a commander.

Lastly, we have the gnoll fangs of Yeenoghu. While these are essentially just buffed-up gnolls that are chosen warriors of Yeenoghu, they do have a poison effect tacked on to their bite that adds a small bit of interest to this class.

Sure, gnolls aren’t as varied as dragons, but they’re low-CR creatures with enough different abilities to come up with a unique force. They keep their goals simple, and their abilities reinforce that they are vicious, threatening attackers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and if you did, be sure to check out our article on gnolls as a playable race. As always, happy adventuring.