Gnolls are hyena-like humanoid creatures standing up to about seven feet tall. They are carnivorous humanoids, known in many places for their savage culture and warlike ways.
Gnolls were created during the Calamity when an unknown deity, potentially the demon lord Yeenoghu, entered Exandria to do battle and a pack of wild hyenas happened to be caught in the divine eminence.
On the continent of Tal'Dorei, most gnolls belong to nomadic tribes led by a matriarch and her mate. The Dustpaw tribe is an important part of the culture of Turst Fields, and some gnolls have settled in mid-size settlements like Westruun and Kymal, but most are on the outskirts, subsisting on caravan food along the Silvercut Roadway or on carrion.
In the Empire, gnolls are considered a bestial but minor menace, not making their way deep into the Empire (past Bladegarden) in large numbers. Traveling in small, roving hunting packs of perhaps half a dozen, they are generally seen on the outskirts of civilization. Aggressively hungry creatures, gnolls would eat what flesh they could get a hold of, though they were known to be opportunistic hunters, keeping to small game and the occasional person who wandered too far from their fields. On occasion when food is scarce, it is not uncommon for gnolls to turn to cannibalism in their obsessive hunger. Feeding on each other, gnolls would pile up the bones of the dead whose flesh they had devoured. Although they were easily provoked into violence, large-scale raids against points of civilization were generally too dangerous for their small packs, and they would only dare to do so out of desperation.
Under the Kryn Dynasty, many gnolls live a relatively civilized life, particularly in Asarius where they are nearly a third of the city's population. The gnoll village of Unyeethi in the Many Hosts of Igrathad is fairly primitive but part of a coherent whole, and gnolls are significant parts of the outlying Kryn settlements of Urzin and Vurmas. Gnolls are integrated into the Kryn military: they were among the drow-led group that ambushed Dwendalian scouts in "Xhorhas" (2x51).
The gnolls who attacked Alfield were seen to have banners made of flesh with the mark of Yeenoghu.
A lord of the Abyss, Yeenoghu was a large, feral, bestial demon that had once roamed the Prime Material Plane. He was ever hungering, and ever wandering to conquer and devour all in its wake, leaving destruction, fetid meat, and waves of yipping, angry hyenas that would devour what was left behind.
Through rituals performed in the name of this patron, the gnolls were able to take the corpses of the fellow gnolls they had consumed and raise them up as undead warriors in their service.
Gnoll Pack Lord
The gnoll pack lord, ruling by might and cunning, earns the best of a gnoll pack's spoils, food, valuable trinkets, and magic items. The pack lord encountered by the Mighty Nein ornamented its body with ornate scale mail armor with thick, bony manticore spines that were woven into the shoulders, the back of his large helmet, and the sides of his armor. These spines, approximately 1.5–2 feet long, may have served a defensive purpose or perhaps only been an ornate adornment intended to look scary.
Gnoll Witherling (Undead Gnoll)
With clumps of fur, sloughing dried flesh, and exposed bone, gnoll witherlings were undead skeletal gnolls with part of their skulls pushing out of their snouts. They shambled alongside their living allies and had gnashing teeth, claws for tearing flesh, and heavy wooden clubs.
According to Bryce's research, the witherlings are gnolls who did not survive food shortages. After they were eaten by other gnolls, someone raised them from the dead.
Priest of Yeenoghu
The priest or shaman encountered by the Mighty Nein seemed unusual: this apparently human (or similar race) figure wore a hollowed-out skin of a gnoll. Wearing the skin like armor, they used the jawless head as a hood, and sections of the arms like handless gloves. Part of this armor was discolored and rotting with long, bony manticore spines piercing through elements in the shoulders and head of the gnoll's hide that they were wearing. They also had had baubles and chains with symbols hanging from their neck.
- Covak: An elderly worshiper of the Traveler who lived in Asarius but decided to relocate to Rumblecusp after TravelerCon.
- In "The Open Road" (2x05) the Mighty Nein adventuring party encountered gnolls in Alfield; they had muscular torsos, thin dog-like legs, extended necks with spots of fur, ears curled upward, and dog-like snouts. They were strong and able to rapidly dart and leap across areas. They communicated in yips and growls and had a hyena-like laugh. As well as their bite, they used spears and longbows. They wore patchwork hide and leather armor over mangy fur that was coated in thick, oily liquid smelling of acrid, rotting flesh. After this encounter the Mighty Nein tracked the gnolls to their lair in the Rill's Mouth Mines in "The Howling Mines" (2x06).
- In "Xhorhas" (2x51) The Mighty Nein encountered gnolls near the Ashguard Garrison.
- Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, p. 122. The demon lord Yeenoghu, traditional creator of gnolls, couldn't be mentioned by name in the book due to copyright concerns.
- Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, pp. 57–58.
- Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, p. 123.
- See "The Open Road" (2x05) from 3:15:37 through 3:18:21.
- Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 93.
- Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 132.
- Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 141.
- Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 146.
- Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, p. 131.
- See "The Howling Mines" (2x06) from 44:01 through 52:30.
- See "The Howling Mines" (2x06) at 49:38.
- See D&D: Monster Manual, 5th ed., p. 162.
- See "The Open Road" (2x05).
- See "The Howling Mines" (2x06) at 2:36:29.