Last Updated on November 5, 2023
Your Kenku character will have the following racial traits.
Ability Score increase: +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom
Size: Medium – Roughly 5 feet tall and between 90-120 lbs.
Age: Kenku have shorter lifespans than humans. They reach maturity at about 12 years old and can live to 60.
Alignment: chaotic neutral
Kenku Training: Choose two skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth, and Sleight of Hand.
Mimicry: You can mimic sounds you have heard, including voices. A creature that hears the sounds you make can tell they are imitations with a successful Wisdom (Insight) check opposed by your Charisma (Deception) check.
Expert Forgery: You can duplicate other creatures’ handwriting and craftwork. You have advantage on all checks made to produce forgeries or duplicates of existing objects.
Languages: You can read and write Common and Auran, but you can speak only by using your Mimicry trait
The Kenku: Cursed Avian Race of Faerûn
Kenku first appeared in the Monster Manual III for D&D 3.5e as simple monsters with a tendency towards Neutral Evil alignments.
Their appearance and temperament are likely inspired by the Tengu, a type of bird spirit or yōkai from Japanese mythology.
They became a playable race for the first time in 4th Edition, with features that included a bird-themed version of Pack Tactics, and an early iteration of their Mimicry feature.
In the 5e supplement Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the Kenku were introduced as a playable race once again and given a more nuanced, sensitive treatment compared to the cackling crow monsters of earlier editions.
The current understanding of Kenku history is that, far in the past, their ancestors were capable of flight and great feats of creativity.
The Kenku’s ancestors fell into service to a dark power of unknown origin, angering this dark master when they attempted to steal something (presumably very shiny and) of great value to their patron – thought by some to have been the demon lord Graz’zt.
They were caught and, in a punishment of truly biblical proportions, Graz’zt cursed the Kenku and all future generations.
The curse had three elements:
- Kenku’s wings withered and fell to the earth, binding them forever.
- Since the plan to steal from their master involved ingenuity and skill, Graz’zt burned away the Kenku’s spark of creativity.
- Finally, to make sure the Kenku could never divulge any secrets they learn, Grazz’t took away their voices.
Now, each Kenku belongs to a woe begotten diaspora, eking out a shadow of their former lives in the slums and abandoned quarters of downtrodden cities. All Kenku culture is focused firmly on the past, seeking some way to hang on to – or even regain – what was taken from them.
What Classes Are Well Suited to the Kenku?
A Kenku’s Dexterity and Wisdom bonus, as well as their Mimicry abilities make them well-suited to a number of classes.
Obviously, if there’s a character concept (like a Kenku bard that just sings covers, on a quest to write her first original song, whose name is Sheryl Crow – obviously) that really grabs you, you can make it work – especially given the new rules for character creation launched in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
However, below we’ve broken down some of the classes in D&D 5e that synergize best with the Kenku’s abilities, traits, and culture.
This is the quintessential Kenku build, informed both by their natural +2 to Dexterity, as well as the Kenku’s proclivity for crime and skulduggery. Their mimicry ability and Stealth proficiency make Kenku natural-born infiltrators, sneak thieves, and even assassins.
If you take the Criminal background, you also gain access to a web of criminal contacts, which can be ideal for setting up a network of fellow Kenku rogues throughout the lands.
The Kenku rogue conjures images of crow-faced assassins perched on a rain-soaked rooftop deep in the heart of the city. If you want to give your Kenku a less urban-focused approach, another class that synergizes perfectly with their ability bonuses is the ranger.
With your Dexterity and Wisdom bonuses – as well as your stealthy skills – you can become a master of the wilderness, moving unseen and unheard through forests, mountains, even the Underdark.
Another class where the Kenku’s Wisdom and Dexterity synergize perfectly, the Monk matches up well with the playstyle and flavor of the Kenku.
You could even pick up the Sage background and play a member of an order of monks dedicated to preserving what scraps of Kenku culture remain.
While you could make any subclass work for your Kenku monk, the Way of Shadow is a perfect thematic and mechanical fit that blends the monk’s abilities with those of an Arcane Trickster rogue.
The cleric is another Wisdom-based class that Kenku can play effectively.
While the traditional conception of a cleric is clad in plate armor and carrying a hammer on the frontline, choosing the Trickery Domain cleric is much less frontline combat-focused, and synergizes really well with your Dexterity and sneakier skills.
Dexterity-based Fighters are just as effective as Strength-based ones. Pick up a longbow or massive crossbow, the ranged weapon fighting style and maybe specialize into Arcane Archer for the ultimate ranged damage dealer.
Kenku Names: Male, Female, and Gender Neutral
Kenku naming conventions are one of the most interesting facets of their expertise as mimics and lack of any language that is uniquely theirs.
Because Kenku can mimic both language and any random sounds they may have encountered, Kenku often choose names for themselves from the array of sounds they grew up hearing.
Kenku names are, for obvious reasons, largely gender-neutral.
Example Kenku Names: Hammer and Stone; Ripper; Rat Yelp; Page Turn; Bush Rustle; Hoofbeat; Snarl; Water Over Coals; Far-Off Hymnal; Donkey Bray; Shop Bell Chime; Arrow Passing By; Copper; Jangle Keys; Latch; Toast.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.