Stealthily you enter the gnoll den. Bones, excrement, and rotten meat litter the floor. As you round the corner you hear a hyena-like screech as 5 large gnolls charge at you with battleaxes. They surround you and cut you down, laughing all the way. Congratulations, you’re their next meal.
Gnolls are some of my favorite creatures in D&D. One of my players had featured them heavily in his backstory in my campaign. Unfortunately I hadn’t really connected his backstory to the game much before and felt it would be difficult to connect gnolls to 10th level characters and still make them interesting enemies.
Then I got a hold of Tome of Beasts (ToB) and Volo’s Guide to Monsters (VGtM) (affiliate links!) which have some higher cr gnolls. So far these have been fantastic challenges. The havoc runner gnoll from ToB has been especially brutal.
Like other gnolls the havoc runner gnoll is a pack hunter, except they get mechanical benefits for corralling their enemies and working together. They’re also quite a bit beefier than regular gnolls so they can last long enough to really get some heavy hits in even on mid-game level PCs.
Havoc Runner Gnoll Lore
Gnoll lore in general is very interesting. They can trace their origins back to Yeenoghu when he ran amok on the material plane. However, gnolls stayed in the material plane even after his banishment back to the abyss.
They continued to be pack hunters that destroy and raid villages, travelers, and anything else in their path. Gnolls typically build a warband which allows them to easily ransack villages.
Gnolls have an insatiable bloodlust and have a hunger that can’t be satisfied. A gnoll warband will destroy a town, plunder their food stores, and still gnaw on the corpses of the villagers as the town burns around them.
Typically they will not go after large cities or armored warriors. Gnolls don’t like to fight a fair fight. They’re simply trying to kill, loot, and feast and will take the path of least resistance to get there.
Havoc runner gnolls come with the caveat that they are much more tactically-perceptive than the average gnoll in a warband. They know where the most valuable loot is hidden and can pin-point the best target to take out in a battle.
As the name implies, havoc runner gnolls are extremely nimble. They can dash into a caravan, slaughter a few people, and grab the valuables within a few seconds before they quickly dash back to the rest of the warband.
Havoc Runner Gnoll Stats and Abilities
AC: 15 (chain shirt)
Hit Points: 58 (9d8 + 18)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 16 (+3)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 14 (+2)
INT: 8 (-1)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 9 (-1)
Overall havoc runner gnolls have it pretty good in the ability scores department. That’s pretty typical for ToB creatures though. They tend to have some pretty decent ability scores compared to a lot of the official creatures that have more hit-or-miss ability scores.
Their speed is average and their AC is in-line with the rest of their gnoll counterparts from the Monster Manual. Their HP is about average as well.
You may think this is odd since I called them both fast and beefy earlier, but these benefits don’t come from their statline. The real strength of the havoc runner gnoll comes from their multiple traits and abilities.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Skills: Athletics +5, Perception +5
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 15
The bonuses to both Athletics and Perception are pretty significant especially for a CR 3 creature. It’s very rare to see a creature so perceptive in the official WotC sources, but it’s honestly welcomed. Many times PCs seem to be able to just sneak past undetected without much of an issue.
Just from a lore perspective these two stats being abnormally high makes sense. They can jump, climb, and grapple creatures with ease and they are unusually perceptive compared to the average gnoll.
Darkvision is always a nice plus, but it’s to be expected since that’s a staple for gnolls.
Abilities and Traits
Harrying Attacks. If the gnoll attacks two creatures in the same turn, the first target has disadvantage on attack rolls until the end of its next turn.
Lightning Lope. The gnoll can Dash or Disengage as a bonus action.
Pack Tactics. The gnoll has advantage on its attack rolls against a target if at least one of the gnoll’s allies is within 5 feet of the target and the ally isn’t incapacitated.
Havoc runner gnolls have so many great toys to play with in this section. Harrying Attacks was an extremely unique trait that works so well in actual play. Between that and Pack Tactics your havoc runner gnolls can ensure that they’re getting advantage on each attack and their opponents are at disadvantage.
As you can imagine this does wonders for their damage output and their survivability if they can manage this. It’s destructive and really makes them hit quite a bit harder than the usual CR 3 creature.
Lightning Lope is great for their action economy since now the gnolls are able to rush around or disengage and reposition as a bonus action. It also can be used as a way for the havoc runners to rush around the front-line and gang up on the casters and other back-line characters.
Multiattack. The gnoll makes one bite attack and two battleaxe attacks.
Battleaxe. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage or 8 (1d10 + 3) slashing damage if used in two hands.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.
So on average a havoc runner gnoll can deal 22 damage per round if they hit all 3 attacks. That is a huge amount of damage for a CR 3 creature. It’s actually not far off of the average damage that a Gnoll Fang of Yeenoghu can dish out which is a CR 4 creature.
Frankly speaking, with 3 attacks per round each the havoc runner gnoll is unbelievably destructive. Especially when they have a weapon that can work as either a one-handed or two-handed weapon giving them the opportunity to utilize items with a free hand in combat.
Havoc Runner Gnoll Strengths
Massive Amounts of Damage
As I just mentioned, havoc runner gnolls can deal 22 damage per round on average. They can deal an average of 20 damage per round when using their battleaxe as a one-handed weapon. This is still a large amount of damage for a CR 3 creature.
Consider the fact that if they can utilize their Pack Tactics trait they can do these attacks at advantage. This increases their chances of not only hitting, but critting their targets as well which will deal even more damage.
Their 3 attacks are great for dealing damage, but they’re also important for activating their Harrying Attacks trait. While they can dish all 20-22 damage on a single target, it’s better for them to spread that damage around a bit to give themselves more survivability.
Excellent Action Economy
I’d say it’s disappointing that they don’t have a ranged option, but honestly they don’t need it with Lightning Lope giving havoc runner gnolls the ability to Dash or Disengage as a bonus action every round.
Havoc runner gnolls need to be near their allies to be effective so having Lightning Lope is crucial for them being able to have proper positioning in the heat of battle.
Havoc runner gnolls have 3 attacks and a bonus action while not having to sacrifice much to gain this solid action economy. They still have an average movement speed and a solid statline while having an excellent action economy.
Havoc Runner Gnoll Weaknesses
Reliant on Harrying Attacks for their Defenses
With Harrying Attacks, havoc runner gnolls have some excellent survivability. Unfortunately, that revolves entirely upon them being able to use Harrying Attacks. They need to attack two creatures in a round, but hit at least one of them.
This isn’t necessarily super difficult, but can be tough if you have a few high AC front-line PCs blocking your way. Sure you can Disengage and rush towards the less-armored units in the back-line, but there’s no guarantee they won’t simply spread out and make it difficult for you to bounce between the two targets.
Basically, if the enemy spreads out the havoc runner gnoll is going to have a very difficult time using both their Pack Tactics and Harrying Attacks even with the extra Dash or Disengage.
They Need Proper Positioning to be Effective
I’ve mentioned positioning quite a few times so far, but I really want to drill the fact home that havoc runner gnolls are reliant on their positioning. The ideal positioning for them is to have at least one ally engaged with their target while still being able to swoop back while still being able to attack a second target on the same turn.
While Lightning Lope can give them some extra movement if their targets are more than 30 ft. away they’ll have to take attacks of opportunity to make use of their Harrying Attacks. Your enemies spreading out is going to be the bane of your existence.
How to Play a Havoc Runner Gnoll
Typically I list a couple of tips in this section, but while havoc runner gnolls have a lot of fun stuff to play with they’re not super complex. They basically have one mode: attack. Their survivability depends on them throwing caution to the wind and carving into multiple enemies.
Strike as a Group and Hit Multiple Enemies Per Turn
Ideally you’ll want to pair your havoc runner gnolls up with at least one other creature. They will form a small strike force and use the buddy system so that your havoc runners can use their Pack Tactics and gain advantage on their attacks.
You’ll also want to be able to strike more than 1 creature on your turn in order to use Harrying Attacks. Move as a group to your first target and then have your havoc runners disengage and strike a nearby target if they can.
If you’re using multiple havoc runners you’ll want to coordinate their attacks so that they’re hitting different enemies so multiple enemies have disadvantage on their attack rolls next turn.
You’ll want to try to corral your enemies into a small space so that you can basically ping-pong between them without needing to Dash instead of Disengage. Small spaces are the ideal battle area for havoc runners.
I really enjoyed throwing havoc runner gnolls at my party recently. They caused quite a bit of damage that they were not expecting considering the players have all faced gnolls before in other campaigns.
They’re also great because you can toss them in with other creatures. Throwing a pack runner into a group of regular gnolls makes them extremely effective as they can ping-pong between enemies while their allies sit there and are used to activate Pack Tactics.
Like the Oni last week they are offensive machines. Their survivability is average, but it becomes great when they can make full use of their offensive arsenal. Basically you have to rush in there and hit everything you can like a whirlwind of axes and teeth.
The havoc runner gnoll is yet another excellent addition from Tome of Beasts. The book is quickly becoming one of my favorites. As you can see with this creature they tend to hit a bit harder than the average Monster Manual creature and have some unique abilities.
Previous Monster Monday – Oni
Next Monster Monday – Roper
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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