Gnolls in Athas


So I just recently took a look at 4e’s contributions to Dark Sun and aside from really appreciating them fleshing out the city states and SKs a little more, one thing that stood out to me was their mention of gnolls living in Athas.

Now I’ve read through most of 2e’s Dark Sun material and I never remember them mentioning gnolls ever, heck they suggest yuan-ti existing in the original campaign book. But gnolls are definitely not there.

Anyway I was wondering how the Dark Sun community feels about introducing gnolls to the setting. Do they fit despite normally being depicted as an “evil” race? After all a core theme of dark sun is the moral ambiguity. That always struck me as the core reason they got rid of orcs, goblins and other generally “evil” critters.

So if you do have gnolls in your setting how do you depict them? Are they cruel raider cannibals much like in standard DnD? Or do you make them a more pragmatic shamanistic race since Yeenoghu has no real influence in Athas? Every race in Athas is tipped on its head so I’m definitely interested in seeing how athasian gnolls can be done well for the setting, if at all.


Personally I wouldn’t use them, simply because including more humanoid races just detracts from the awfulness and impact of the genocidal Cleansing Wars. I know gnolls weren’t included as part of the 15 Champions, but if the race was around in that period, wouldn’t there have been another Champion made to get rid of them? Retroactively adding them and trying to pretend that “yeah, they were there all along” doesn’t sit all that well with me. Many of the traditional swords-n-sorcery fantasy worlds like Krynn, Toril, and Oerth suffer from a massive bloat of sentient races, many of which serve the same exact purpose and are entirely redundant. Ask yourself, what role would gnolls serve on Athas that couldn’t be better fit by a more iconic Athasian creature?


You can have gnolls. Just don’t have them as a major race. Stick them into a single geographical area and call them “new race freaks”. You can use their stats and tropes, no problem.

(Robert Adducci) #4

It’s quite funny that gnolls were not mentioned at all in the original Dark Sun. I think they’re very well suited to Dark Sun. I like to think that they came about sometime after the Cleansing War. Maybe they were created by one of the sorcerer-kings to help destroy their race. I could see them used against elves, gnomes, or orcs.


Well I certainly agree with the point that culling the majority of sentient races from Dark Sun helps add to the devastated feel of the setting. At the same time there is no shortage of diversity on Athas. But most of that life is heavily mutated, having come to exist after the cleansing wars. Gith, Dray, half giants, and arguably Muls depending on the DM are all critters that never existed during the Green Age. And we have a hell of a lot of other sentient races running around, Ssuran, Tari, Aarakocra, Tareks, Pterrans, Nikaal and Villichi to highlight the ones with a proper society. (Kenku and shardminds might also be there, but I’ve no real idea).

Gnolls are interesting because thri-kreen cover a lot of the niches I would have gnolls fill. A pack based society of savage nomads and pragmatic raiders that aren’t picky about what they eat. Hell both are even societies I’d depict as matriarchal as I base both races quite a bit off their respective animal.

I personally however don’t see gnolls as a mutant race that came to be with the Red/Brown Age. They strike me more as a minor race that would’ve taken better to the new world better than most and continue to grow and adapt from there. Since thri-kreen cover a lot of what I would normally want out of gnolls I kind of see them instead as natural trackers. These are the guys who have a talent for finding meat and water just about anywhere. This makes them fine guides, but more importantly to the city states it makes them very good slavers. Perhaps the gnolls came from the southwest beyond Celik and are a relatively uncommon breed to encounter in the Tyr region, at least compared to elves and thri-kreen. But when gnoll tribes do come calling people quickly fear for their freedom.

Also a fun thought. What if flind gnolls in athas were bred by the sorcerer kings as nightmarish gladiatorial monsters?

(Felix Gonzalez) #6

Indeed, no gnolls in 2e.
But in 4e they are mentioned 11 times.
9 in the DSCS and 2 in the DSCC.
I personally like them, i think they have a good Dark Sun feels to them. Though i made them rarer than most races, almost unheard of, like the Dray. I kept them as mostly raiders and mercenary scouts/trackers. Separating them from the thri-kreen some what. Perhaps they come from the forgotten north, or west of the Deadlands?

Edit: lol Thread Necromancer (woops!)


Likewise, I am running a 5e dark sun campaign where gnolls are front and center in the adventures. Totally seamless fit. I’m actually surprised they were never mentioned before the 4e books came out.


Interesting ideas for gnolls here.


The DiTerlizzi gnoll art from the link I posted above.



Some homebrew thoughts for Athasian gnolls.

Gnolls are among the most recent of the New Races to become relatively plentiful, having appeared in the desert wastes some 700 years ago. With the gnolls faring badly against the more numerous gith and belgoi, some gnolls fell into the hands of slavers, and were sold in the slave markets of the city states.

The slave owners soon found the gnolls to be fairly well-behaved slaves, as long as they were very well fed. The slave owners also found out that gnolls were lazy workers, lackluster in the fields, useless in any trade, and prone to rebel at disciplinary beatings or whippings. Not feeding gnoll slaves enough also guaranteed gnoll slave revolts. The jobs that gnolls tended to be good at are slave taskmaster and slave soldier, jobs that they performed with relish.

Over time it was deemed unnecessary to hold gnolls as slaves, although some gnolls are still under slavery. The gnolls worked better as ‘freemen’ than as slaves, as long as their pay also included ample food and water (and for this reason gnolls are paid less than other freemen). As noted, gnolls are employed as slave taskmasters and soldiers, and as mercenaries for the Sorcerer Kings.

A gnolls life revolves around food. A gnoll needs at least three full meals a day to feel contentment, although a gnoll doesn’t need that much food to survive. A gnoll denied food, or a hungry gnoll is potentially dangerous. More than one slaver that denied gnolls food ended up being eaten by the gnolls. Gnoll family life is centered around a gnoll’s immediate family. A brother, sister, mother, father, son and daughter are all important, but more distant relatives are not. The overriding duty of a gnoll family member is to make sure the other family members are well fed. Only to feed another family member would a gnoll be willing to forgo a meal.

Most gnolls are settled in the city states or villages, and few gnoll tribes roam the wastes. Those few tribes that do roam the wastes live a tenuous existence of food and water scarcity. When they are able, they will raid trade caravans (which are occasionally protected by mercenary gnolls). If the mercenary gnolls have been well fed they will protect the caravan, if not they may assist their fellow gnolls in looting the caravan.