Gnoll Week Day 1: Unearthing Arcana Special

Hi, this is Tyler Magruder, writer of Zargo Games. To celebrate Gnoll Week, I have decided to review a number of products for 5th Edition related to gnolls. This edition collects some playable gnoll options from both the Dungeon Masters Guild and RPGNow. All of these products are available for free or pay-what-you-want.

Gnoll Player Race for 5e (DMs Guild)

By Philip St. Onge LINK

Brief Summary: Play as a gnoll with three subraces to choose from.

Overview: This product is light on fluff, though it has enough to give players a rough idea of how a gnoll should act. The names section is also light on detail, and only provides two samples of last names. The trait section is the meat of the product, and the core racial features seem pretty solid, despite a few formatting errors. The subraces are more divisive. While each does a decent job of connecting the flavor with the abilities, they all feel very combat-focused, with nothing of use to a roleplayer. They also seem both unbalanced and unfinished, with many key details left out that I feel the author simply forgot to include or didn’t realize that they were needed. After the subclasses there’s a table of gnoll flaws, with the disclaimer that it’s taken from Out of the Abyss.

As mentioned earlier there are numerous formatting errors, and coupled with the background image that is sometimes too dark over the text, this product can be difficult to look at. I recommend using the printer-friendly version, which the author thankfully includes in the base product.

Verdict: This product is a solid core for running gnolls, but it falls apart with the subraces. It’s sometimes a mess visually, but for a free product that’s forgivable. Check it out if you want to see one person’s take on gnolls.

Gnolls- A system agnostic 5E Race (DMs Guild)

By Owen Esson LINK

Brief Summary: A short product that provides an unusual take on gnolls.

Overview: This product make it clear that this is a setting-agnostic take on gnolls, which is obvious when you read that “gnolls are… evolved from canines such as jackals and wolves” rather than hyenas. Still, a gnoll is a gnoll, and as far as gnolls go these are interesting. These gnolls are often chaotic good, can move on all fours, and come from forests. This leads to the document clarifying brief rules for moving on all fours, which could be a useful tool for people wanting to make their own quadrupedal races. However, the product is very clearly made on the Homebrewery by someone who has very little understanding of how to use it, and as such its formatting is very poor and the choice to make all the text centered is baffling and obnoxious.

Verdict: This product seems to have very little effort put into it, but it provides an interesting alternate take on gnolls that is worth the free price tag.

Racial Option: Gnolls (DMs Guild)

By ItsADnDMonsterNow (Kyle Pointer) LINK

Brief Summary: Create a playable gnoll race with three subraces while remaining as faithful to the current lore as possible.

Overview: The document is plain but very readable, so I consider that a positive. The formatting is great throughout the document. It opens with the author explaining his experience with playing gnolls in past editions and his desire to create playable gnolls for 5th. Then he provides a disclaimer that this has not been thoroughly playtested.

Past that there is a lengthy section that details the lore, ecology, and behavior of gnolls. This adheres strongly to the existing lore from the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide but adds small touches that I appreciate. There’s a meaty list of sample names, great for people like me that have trouble coming up with names. Then finally there’s the traits section.

My problem with this is that it seems like gnolls are overloaded with traits. Individually, each trait is interesting and fits with gnolls well. However, the base gnoll feels like a full race on its own, but then it gets a choice of three subraces, each of which are also quite meaty. The core race contains a negative feature that penalizes the gnolls in certain roleplaying scenarios, but I don’t feel like this is enough to maintain balance. The subraces are distinct and flavorful. The mystic gives the gnoll innate magic, the scout makes the gnoll fast and skilled with ranged weapons, and the warrior makes the gnoll an all-around killing machine. The features work well with the flavor, but from just eyeballing it the race seems overpowered. Stripping out one or two features would probably bring the race more in line with the other races.

Verdict: A very well-written product that has a few balance issues that are easily addressable by a competent DM. Well worth the free price tag.

Elements of Evil: Gnolls (RPGNow)

By 5Realms Publishing LINK

Brief Summary: Create a playable gnoll race based off wolves instead of hyenas.

Overview: This product has a surprisingly high production value for such a short product. There’s an illustration, a cover (with the same illustration), a title page, a legal page, and a back cover. However, the core of the product feels lacking.

The flavor and illustration makes the gnolls feel more like werewolves stuck in the wolf form rather than a monstrous humanoid. The names section is rather small and has pretty on the nose names such as “Snarl” and “Flesh-Carver.” Past that, the traits are a mess. The race is ridiculously underpowered by the fact that all three of the mental stats are decreased by two but only two of the physical stats are increased by two, and one of them by one. The rest of the features feel a little ridiculous, such as the ability to go into a bloodlust and continuously decrease your AC to increase your attack bonus and damage, the ability to essentially echolocate the topography, and the choice of extra hit points, improved intelligence, improved bloodlust (which is already crazy), or improved experience point gain. It’s a mess.

Verdict: Despite a few decent ideas, this product is slim and contains very little of use to players of DMs. Still, it has a price tag of free, so it might be worth checking out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *