Posted on April 2, 2010 by Robert A. Howard
Available at RPGNow.com
A Brief History of Gnolls is the first in a series of books planned by Skirmisher Publishing that explores the mythology surrounding classic fantasy monsters such as Orcs, Ogres, Goblins and Trolls. In this edition, Paul Haynie delves into the literary origins of the Gnoll, a creature born perhaps somewhat accidently within the last century. To be clear, this booklet is almost purely academic. So if you are looking for inspiration on using Gnolls in your game, this is likely not the product for you. If you’re interested in how this creature came to be added to our fantasy lexicon, however, this is an interesting, albeit short, read.
The PDF has two illuminating essays that detail the origin of the term “Gnoll” and the its path through the years — and various editions of Dungeons and Dragons and popular online games — to become the half-hyena creature that we all know so well today. Having never researched the genesis of Gnolls before, I found this to be a fascinating read.
You’ll also find within the short story by Lord Dunsany that Haynie attributes as the very origin of the Gnoll mythology, How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles. It was surprising, at least to me, that the setting of this story was decidedly more modern than I would have expected. If you’ve never read it, it would make great inspirational reading for a Lovecraftian style 1920’s game. Since it was written in the early 1900’s, it has since fallen into the public domain, so you can find it freely online with just a quick search.
While A Brief History of Gnolls was a fun read overall, I find myself questioning even the three dollar price tag attached to a product where almost half of its content is available freely online. The twenty six pages that fill out this book are in large font with several full page illustrations. This made for easy reading on my smaller Kindle screen, however the page count could be a bit misleading if you are expecting more content. In truth, the two essays that make up the content you’re actually paying for in this book really only account for around two thousand words. Nonetheless, if you are interested in the more esoteric origins of this classic Dungeons and Dragons monster, this is a great read for you.
Review by Robert A. Howard, Pen & Paper Games.