Friday Figures: Are Hobgoblins and Gnolls Normal?

 Poll: Are hobgoblins/gnolls normal man-types? 

Here's another poll I asked on the ODD74 forums: Do Hobgoblins and Gnolls count as normal man-types?

What does that even mean?, you might possibly say. In OD&D circles, there are frequent rules debates on whether something counts as "normal" or "fantastic" (that is, not-normal) or not. This springs from the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, where some types just borrowed the combat dice mechanic from the mass-combat game (e.g., hobbits, dwarves, elves, goblins, orcs), and others did not, appearing with special custom rules on the "Fantasy Combat Table" (e.g., heroes, wizards, dragons, trolls, giants). Sometimes those latter "fantastic" creatures were immune to "normal" attacks and sometimes not; sometimes they also had parallel values for the normal mass-combat mechanics, and others did not. 

So there's a hazy border area about what monsters are "normal" and what are not. And this distinction flows directly into the Original D&D rules, where some spells and magic items (e.g., charm person, hold person, potion/ring of human control) implicitly work just on the "normal" types. Furthermore, fighters throughout the Chainmail-0E-1E-2E rulesets are given a cleave-ability of attacks per round equal to their level, but only against "normal" types (the definition of which varied slightly over the editions). 

Therefore, in the hazy state of OD&D, the Hobgoblin/Gnoll types jumped out at me as existing right on the boundary of the normal/fantastic parameters, and I was wondering which side of the fence most OD&D players placed them on. Hobgoblins don't appear on the Chainmail Fantasy Combat Table; Gnolls don't appear in those rules at all. In OD&D they appear jointly on a single line of the monster roster. Hobgoblins have hit dice 1+1, Gnolls have 2, which in some definitions ("base 1 hit die or less", Gygax's FAQ in The Strategic Review #2) would put them on opposite sides of the divide, which could seem odd. On the other hand, the OD&D charm person spell is said to affect all these types up to Gnolls explicitly, and critically on the monster list, hobgoblins/gnolls are the highest type to appear in mass numbers into the hundreds (implying that the fighters' cleave-ability was meant to work against them)? 

Monster reference table, including hobgoblins/gnolls

As you can see in results at the top, the majority of respondents on the ODD74 forums said, "yes", Hobgoblins and Gnolls should count as "normal men" for these kinds of purposes (even though they both have more than 1 single hit die). Twelve people (80%) voted "yes", and only three people (20%) voted "no". As usual here: a small sample size, but a lopsided majority for "yes". 

I agree that does seem to make the best regression between various signals in different parts of the rules (charm person inclusion, mass numbers appearing, formation status in Swords & Spells, etc.). However, in my own house rules, I lean towards saying "no". It seems much more elegant to say "man-size is anything up to 1 hit die". That complies with the stated fighter-cleave requirements, restricts to actual man-sized figures (gnolls in AD&D are said to be 7+ feet tall!), and generally gives a nice easy-to-remember cutoff.

Here's the real kicker, though. As part of the discussion on ODD74, user retrorob pointed out a detail that all the rest of us missed: in the Beyond This Point Be Dragons document (BTPBD), presumed to be a copy of a pre-publication original D&D draft -- get this -- even Gnolls did have a single hit die! In this work, there is absolutely no mechanical distinction between the two types, except for either +1 or +2 morale bonus given in the descriptive text. Thanks immensely for that, retrorob!

BTPBD Monster Roster: including hobgoblins/gnolls

So that sort of comes back full circle. Assuming the BTPBD is an accurate reflection of the original design, the "normal" monster types affected by charm person, hold person, fighter cleaving, mass numbers appearing, etc. really did top out at base 1 hit die (including hobgoblins/gnolls at 1+1 hit dice). Having observed that, the elegance of such a system attracts me so much that I kind of want to declare that the true rule for my games. If we keep Gnolls at 2 hit dice for variety, then presumably we'd want to keep them off the fighter-cleave list, reduce their large Numbers Appearing, and cut them off the charm/hold person effect lists, etc. Suddenly that looks really nice to me. (And by implication, later 2 hit die creatures like Lizard Men and Troglodytes would be in the same category.)

How would you have voted there?

Poll on Hobgoblin/Gnolls at ODD74 (account required)


  1. Huh. That's a box of interesting questions.

    I think you're illustrating the real gap that lies between the combat systems of Chainmail and OD&D. Take the ogre for example: a 4 HD monster that (in Chainmail) may be defeated either using the "normal" combat rules or the "fantastical" system. Clearly an ogre is supposed to be an extremely beefy opponent. Like a Hero they can be brought down by normal infantry and UNlike a hero this can be accomplished through an accumulation of hits (rather than all hits occurring simultaneously). Ogres may fight in formation (just like dwarves, elves, and men) and they can deal out tremendous punishment with their six dice attacks.

    In OD&D, the accumulation of hits (represented by 4 hit dice) is quite similar but its attack strength is toned down by limiting it to a single blow every round. But I'd say this works fine due to the assumptions of the D&D game (that an ogre will be facing a small band of heroic protagonists, not troops on a battlefield).

    [note, too, that the ogre is completely "normal" when it comes to things like charm person, sleep, hold person, etc.]

    This then can be a guide for creatures like gnolls and bugbears (hobgoblins are just inverted elves using the same 1+1 hit dice). In a Chainmail situation they should be treated like "small ogres," allowing them to absorb (and dish out) more damage in formation. A group of them would prove tough slogging for a hero (or even a superhero).

    Should a D&D fighter be able to "cleave" such creatures? Sadly, I'd say NO. As I've been playing AD&D lately, I've been using the adjusted "cleaving" of that system, and it's begun to dawn on me just what the rules represent in the context of the game:

    1) a trained warrior's ability to mow down untrained militia and "civilians."
    2) a fighter's ability to shrug off (in heroic, comic book fashion) hordes of SMALL creatures.

    An orc warrior (let alone a hardened hobgoblin or a 7' gnoll) is too savvy a combatant to be easily killed...same holds true for a F1 (human) guardsman. Even a "noncombatant" gnoll (a female or, perhaps, elderly member of the tribe) with 1 hit die is simply too big for a fighter to not devote caution to their attack (thus, slowing down the number of blows they make)...such a foe is too dangerous otherwise, to easy to accidentally get seriously harmed. Best to take your time and get it right.

    But against a rushing horde of goblins, kobolds, or giant rats...sure your fighter is going to lay about with her sword as best she can just to keep from getting overwhelmed. And because of the lack of hit points (and the AD&D fighter's assumed strength bonus) each hit is more likely a "kill" rather than a wound...your hero is not slicing up a single goblin four times, but giving a blow to four different opponents OR (the equivalent of) landing a really solid shot on a small, weak creature.

    1. One more thing: in running AD&D, I've recently seen high level fighter PCs encounter groups of gnolls (and hobgoblins) and wished they COULD use their multiple attack routine to help even the odds. But then: shouldn't the gnolls get to roll two attack dice as well? Shouldn't an ogre be allowed to hit multiples with one sweep of his club? In the end, I came to the conclusion that D&D is a DIFFERENT game from Chainmail...as Gygax wrote!...and requires a different system for modeling a different type of genre. And it actually does that genre VERY well.

    2. [to be clear: D&D models the heroic pulp genre including Conan and Fafhrd and Mouser, etc.]

    3. Great thoughts, I agree with lots of that! But a few things:

      (1) Looking at OD&D Vol-1, yes ogres can get affected by sleep, but not by charm/hold person (there's an explicit list that ends with Gnolls).

      (2) OD&D Vol-2 p. 5 actually does have a surprising paragraph ("Attack/Defense") that says any monster, "versus normal men" gets attacks numbering their full hit dice, just like you get for the ogres, heroes, etc. in Chainmail.

      Admittedly I know of very, very few grognards who actually honor that paragraph (and I never have); it's absolutely not what most folks think of for classic D&D. But somewhat amazingly there's actually an argument to be had there b/c of that paragraph.

    4. Oh, and I'll mention that this issue of monsters getting distributed attacks/damage was a major sticking point for my Book of War wargame rules. Looking at Gary's Swords & Spells, it's pretty clear that monsters aren't getting attack-number-by-hit-dice, but their damage is fungible (spread across multiple men if available).

    5. That's a really great point regarding Volume 2 p. 5. I had noticed that before, but then forgotten about it.

      I have been tempted to play using number of attacks versus normal men equal to hit dice. But then the issue of how to distinguish between normal men and other combatants becomes even more important. And, as your discussion reveals, OD&D gives precious little explicit guidance on this issue. For example, do 1st-level characters count as normal men? They do, by the 1 HD or less criterion, but this seems counter-intuitive.

    6. Yeah, that Vol-2 p. 5 passage is just the nuttiest thing!

  2. Before reading your analysis my guts said, Hobgoblins yet, Gnolls maybe.
    I follow the logic and can see the elegance of 1HD (or maybe 1HD+) as a yes, but 2 HD is right out.
    1HD specifically for "cleave" makes sense and aligns with "mook" rules we see elsewhere.
    The only sticking point is on Charm/Hold spells and the like. I would need to think more about how those 2 spells look next to one another and next to spells like Sleep with its 4HD limit (at least in Book of Spells).

  3. Charm Person and Hold Person don't just work on normal types. They work on all humans, for example, even high-level characters (fantastic types).

    The 'person' in Charm Person and Hold Person is contrasted not with fantastic types, but rather with 'monster', as in Charm Monster and Hold Monster. (Notice that Charm Monster also works on creatures of three hit dice or less--Men & Magic, p. 27.)

    This seems to add weight to the view that number of hit dice, not species membership, should define the limits of the fighter's cleave ability.

    1. It's a good point about the charm/hold person working on humans of any level. E.g., I've got draft house-rule language that says "works on man-size humanoids"; if I put the explicit HD limit I'd need to be careful to say "1 HD base" or something, and that might be a little confusing. On the other side, I've tripped up in the past with the potion/ring of human control that does have explicit HD mentioned, and overlooked how it back-reference to the charm spell (so I let it work on bugbears, ogres, giants, etc.)

      Note that charm monster 3-HD case is where rolling 3d6 for number affected occurs; over that you just get one target like in charm person. Anyway, that's how I read it (re: "employable against all creatures").

  4. I *think* you may have seen me point this out before, but an explanation of sorts for what constitutes normal vs. "hero" or "fantasy" monsters is in the FFC. Arneson says "The following facts should be borne in mind for most creatures encountered in small groups. That is that these represent "HERO" type monsters." (How to Become a Bad Guy section)
    So conversely, encounters with "Normal" type monsters may have a large group for number appearing. Arneson gives no guidance for what is a large group #ap and what is a small group #ap, but looking at the #ap column in OD&D vol. 2, wights and ghouls top out at 24 #ap, so I'd suggest that "Normals" are any sentient creatures that have a maximum #ap of 25 or more. This may seem an odd way to define it but in practice it works very well.

    All of which is to say that I think trying to define Normals by HD is a red herring.

    1. Wow, thanks for pointing that section out here; if I'd seen you mention it before I forgot. It's certainly nice to see it explicitly given pretty much as per my hypothesis. If I had to eyeball a demarcation, I'd suggest that all the types that have a 2-digit start point and a 3-digit end point in NA are the "normals". (A clear separating line, as there's no overlap and a clear order-of magnitude difference).

      So much to dig into that little slice if the FFC, incl. advancing any monster and precepts of alignment. I feel like I totally overlooked that before (and only had it since last year), thank you!

  5. One more reason to like my fridays. (:
    I wish gygax and arneson were here to point out to some rules and say "folks, you're getting it all wrong, this is what we meant", or "forget about it, I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote it, never used it"

    1. Ha! Great point. Or maybe they'd so both. :-)