Gnolls are extremely tall, the average member of the race standing on average between 7’ and 7’6", though gnolls are relatively lean for their height, and the race cuts an impressive visage. In part because of their height and lean musculature, gnolls are very quick compared with many other races such as humans. Gnoll skin is a greenish-gray, and their furry hide is light or dark brown marked sometimes with spots or stripes. Many gnolls also have a dirty yellow to reddish-gray crestlike mane that stands on end when a gnoll is angry.
It is believed by some that gnolls have traces of demonic blood, which may be evidenced by unusual features found amongst some of the gnoll bloodlines. These may include talons, gleaming red eyes, or black fur with fiery orange spots.
Female gnolls are indistinguishable from males by size, in spite of a reputation for being shorter. In fact, so similar are male and female gnolls in appearance that they are often mistaken for one another and the only reliable way to tell the difference other than through a close physical examination is if a female is pregnant or openly nursing.
Gnolls have very short lifespans when compared with other sapient humanoids, living only 30 or so years on average and maturing to adulthood at a remarkable speed. Gnolls do not, however, age particularly dramatically except at the end of their lifespans, at which point the decline is sharp and deadly, quickly ending in death.
Moreso than many other humanoid races, primal instinct remains a strong party of the gnoll psyche. Gnolls are natural predators and savor the thrills of the hunt. Almost all gnolls prefer the wilderness to the civilized enclaves favored by humans, dwarves, or other similar races and those that do take to cities usually think of them as just another kind of landscape.
Many other races find the gnoll psyche feral and aggressive, male and female equally, and the behavioral tendencies of the race can certainly give this impression. Gnolls start fighting among one another at a very early age and as soon as they can walk many crawl into places away from the eyes of adults where they engage in vicious, often lethal, battles. A gnoll is more likely to demand answers than it is to actually ask a question. Gnolls, however, do not see this as an act of hostility, but rather a basic demonstration of strength.
Though gnolls are not necessarily evil, the craving of the hunt and primal bloodlust that inhabit the gnoll mind make many of the race appear evil to the other races. Gnolls who succumb to this tendency often become nomadic savages, wreaking havoc wherever they can, giving gnolls their fearsome reputation as slaving brigands throughout the world. Fortunately such creatures are rarely united and although gnolls as a whole have a strong affinity for family and blood ties, this friendliness does not often extend to gnolls who belong to a different pack and the race commonly makes war on itself.
Other gnoll practices might seem equally strange, such as the gnoll propensity for scavenging. At its most basic level this tendency leads many gnolls to collect trophies that remind them of past victories, items sometimes grisly though just as often simple and mundane, gnoll trackers sometimes use this to their benefit, keeping scraps of clothing or other objects with the scent of their prey on them, which they use to point them in the direction of their quarry.
This tendency can lead to the even more alien gnoll practice of carrion eating. Unlike most races, gnolls have few, if any, qualms about eating the dead of other races. When gnolls strike a village they leave not just no survivors, but no corpses, eating most of those whom they don’t take as slaves. There are even indications that some gnolls take this practice a step further, actually raiding graveyards for fresh corpses to feed on.
In spite of the savage nature of the gnolls there are some aspects to their culture that are not inherently repulsive. Gnolls place a very strong value on family for instance, respecting blood ties perhaps more than any other aspect of a relationship. Though gnolls within a pack commonly fight among one another for dominance, these battles are quickly forgotten after their resolution and in most situations gnolls of the same bloodline are loyal friends and allies to one another. These bloodlines are almost always traced matrilineally, through the female line.
This loyalty to family is particularly obvious during combat, either with rival gnoll packs or other races. Gnolls who fight side by side regularly throw away personal glory in order to help their brethren. Perhaps most surprisingly, when a gnoll is separated from clan and family their instinctive need for such blood ties may lead them to form a surrogate “pack” from those whom they choose to befriend. To these unlikely allies the gnoll is as loyal and faithful as they would their own brothers or sisters, embracing the outsiders as if they were family.
Another common trait of gnolls, that of scavenging, is taken to new levels by gnolls who live in the wild as most do. While all gnolls have an innate tendency for collecting souvenirs and trophies, nomadic packs, particularly the savage ones who have little contact with other races except during wartime, often find little other ways to acquire technology, having crafted few tools of their own. The result of this is that most gnolls rely on the other races as their source of wealth and technology. This extends to arms and weaponry, giving gnoll armor a unique aesthetic where each suit is typically made kitbashed together from scavenged pieces of armor found either on victims or abandoned.
Gnolls of all kinds find an affinity for hyenas, who many see as their brethren and whom they keep as pets or for hunting.
Though gnolls of all kinds have a strong loyalty towards family, gnolls do not extend such courtesies to those outside their pack however and mainstream gnoll culture has a much deserved reputation for brutality. Most gnolls are nomadic, wandering from land to land and living off of raids on the local populations. Victims of these attacks should expect no mercy from their attackers and those who are not killed are taken as slaves where they are brutalized and abused both physically and mentally. Gnolls detest physical labor and so to ensure utter loyalty from slaves take the brutalization of slave to almost an art form . For this purpose most packs have specialized slavers known as tantekurash or “spirit breakers” who make it their business to break the will of a slave through repetitive torture.
The process wreaked on a slave’s mind by the tantekurash is brutal and often irrevocable. Those captives who do not submit are eaten, often in front of other slaves as yet another form of torment. Slaves who accept their fate often live short and brutal lives ended with their own devourment. Few victims are lucky enough to be rescued and those that are may take months to shake the scars from their psyche and recover.
An even less fortunate few find their minds so broken that they actually embrace the brutality of their captors, becoming the kryshantel or “savage souls,” who follow their masters into battle as thralls. Most of these individuals are broken creatures, little more conscious than the hyenas gnolls favor as pets, but a handful retain their intellect, effectively becoming gnolls in all but form. These kryshantel are the most dangerous since they can, unlike regular gnolls, act as infiltrators, performing sabotage and laying the ground for gnoll raids, too often undetected until it is already too late.
Though most gnoll packs embrace their reputation for savagery, others refrain from such utter depravity. These clans are also nomadic but unlike the others rarely engage in violent raids except when seriously provoked. Likewise, though they retain the natural gnoll bloodlust they take no joy in torture or unnecessary cruelty, embracing hunting and tracking over outright slaughter.
In some cases these gnolls might even come to befriend or at least peacefully interact with the members of other races, offering their services as trappers or hunters. Generally, however, gnolls prefer their own kind and except when on business rarely visit neighboring villages dominated by members of another race. Likewise, these gnolls remain aggressive and quick to anger, meaning visitors should be careful not to offend.
Droaam has the largest gnoll population in Khorvaire, but these gnolls are not led by a warlord. Instead, the gnoll communities offer mercenary services to other power groups, reasoning that they will then be on the side of whoever wins in the ongoing power struggle. Gnoll rangers work for both Tharashk and Deneith. However, gnolls of the Brotherhood will not fight other gnolls at any commanders bequest, which is not to say they never fight amongst themselves. Because of their neutrality and fighting skills, gnolls are a stabilizing force in Droaam, and to some degree serve a role similar to that of the Sentinel Marshals in the Five Nations.
Thousands of years ago, toward the end of the Age of Demons, some of the ancestors of the gnolls of Khorvaire came together in Znir and threw down the statues of their demon overlords. The gnolls of the Znir Pact no longer worship gods or demons, but honor their ancestors and their decision by raising cairns in their memory. Gnolls of the Znir Pact are mostly found in Droaam, but can be found anywhere in Khorvaire, including the Demon Wastes.
Gnolls are often worshipers of the Dark Six. Though some pay only nominal reverence, many gnolls are fanatically devoted to their dark overlord and it is his influence which is one of the primary cause of gnoll savagery. Some gnolls believe it is their purpose as the Dark Six’s servants to cleanse the weak from the world, serving a higher purpose through the slaughter they spread.
The gnolls of the Znir Pact do not worship the Dark Six or any other god or demon, instead erecting piles of stones to reflect the idols shattered by their ancestors.
Those gnolls who turn away from the worship of demons often embrace no deity, seeing no clear difference between demons and gods. Sometimes these gnolls seek out instead the patronage of fey spirits of the natural world, embracing the primal essence of nature. Others seek out the gods of other races.