Imagine a humanoid raven, stalking the rain-slicked streets of your favorite fantasy metropolis, cloak pulled tight to conceal glittering black feathers. This is the Kenku, a unique playable race in Dungeons & Dragons that captures the imagination with cursed lore and skillful abilities.
Though wingless, the Kenku possesses unrivaled talents of infiltration, deception, and thievery. Their signature Mimicry allows near-perfect imitation of voices and sounds, enabling entertaining roleplay opportunities. Yet beneath the sneaky exterior lays profound melancholy—the Kenku remains haunted by the loss of their wings and voice.
This article will uncover everything you need to know about the Kenku, from their tragic backstory to optimized character builds. Utilizing insights from official D&D sourcebooks and creators, we will construct the most detailed Kenku guide ever produced, exploring this mystical race's background, traits, personality, naming conventions, and more. Read on to learn the secrets of these master mimics!
I. Kenku Lore and Origin: The Lost Wings of the Ravenfolk
To understand the Kenku, one must know their sorrowful history. This context helps explain the Kenku's cursed state in D&D and their resultant behaviors. While Kenku lore varies slightly across editions, common threads emerge.
The Kenku were winged ravenfolk who dwelled on the Elemental Plane of Air in service to a mysterious, powerful patron. In their greed and hubris, the Kenku conspired to steal a prized treasure from their master and escape to the Material Plane. But their scheme was discovered, and the furious patron cursed the Kenku for their betrayal.
This primal curse contained three terrible afflictions:
- The Kenku's wings burned away, banishing them from the skies forever. Even today, Kenku feel compelled to dwell in towers and high ruins, longing for their lost flight.
- The spark of creativity was snatched from their souls, leaving the Kenku unable to conceive new ideas or create original works. Their talents now lie in mimicry and duplication.
- Finally, their voices were ripped away, forcing the Kenku to communicate solely through sounds and voices copied from others. Kenku speak via disjointed mimicry.
Cast out of the skies and bereft of original thought, voiceless Kenku were left to wander the Material Plane as exiles. Without wings, most survived through cunning and thievery in downtrodden cities. Their talents developed towards infiltrating, spying, scamming, and other roguish deeds.
Kenku now live in nomadic flocks, each member contributing how they can, from elders who share wisdom to hatchlings learning survival skills through mimicry. United by loss, the Kenku dream of reclaiming what was taken—a dream that sometimes compels them toward adventure.
II. Kenku Traits and Abilities: Born to Sneak and Spy
Kenku possess a variety of racial traits optimized for subterfuge and thievery. Let's break down what defines these wingless ravens:
- Ability Score Increase: Kenku gain +2 Dexterity and +1 Wisdom, an excellent combination for ranged combatants, infiltrators, and scouts. Their agility assists with stealth, while wisdom improves perception.
- Age: Kenku mature earlier than humans, around age 12, but rarely exceed 60 years.
- Size: Kenku average five feet tall and 90-120 pounds. Your size is Medium.
- Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
- Expert Forgery: You can duplicate documents and objects flawlessly. This assists with scams and infiltration.
- Kenku Training: You gain proficiency in two of: Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth, Sleight of Hand. Tailor these to your class and goals.
- Mimicry: Imitate any sound or voice convincingly. Use creatively to deceive and entertain!
- Languages: You can read Common and Auran but can only speak through Mimicry.
Combined, these traits make Kenku masters of deception, infiltration, and trickery. Their talents lend themselves naturally to roguish classes, though Kenku makes intriguing bards, rangers, and monks too. Creative use of Mimicry is key to success.
III. Roleplaying a Kenku: The Challenge of Mimicry
Unlike most races, Kenku roleplaying centers around Mimicry—the ability to replicate voices and sounds. Handled poorly, this can annoy others. But approached creatively, mimicking speech can be entertaining. Here are some tips:
- Build a vocabulary over years of exposure. Kenku don't just repeat phrases verbatim. With sufficient context, they can form new sentences from their sound library.
- Imitate voices and sounds to deceive and distract enemies. Use Kenku voices to coordinate stealthily. Mimic animal noises to send signals or scare bandits. Get creative!
- Struggle to create original ideas, songs, poems due to your race's curse. Instead, perfect the art of plagiarism. Use others' content in new combinations.
- Seek opportunities to fly again despite being wingless. Pursue spells, items, or allies that could grant you flight. Play up your skylust!
- Due to your inability to improvise, ask allies to provide multiple battle plans. Execute strategies, but don't formulate them.
- Instinctively follow others' orders, even when intended for someone else. This compulsion creates fun chaos!
- Lean into Mimicry's possibilities without letting it hamper the game. Discuss limitations and solutions with your DM to ensure everyone has fun.
IV. Optimizing Kenku Builds: Class, Skills, and Feats
While Kenku excel as rogues, creativity unlocks their full potential. Consider these optimized builds:
- Rogues: Ranged rogues take advantage of Kenku's Dexterity. Cunning Action enhances mobility. Expertise improves key skills. Multiclass into Ranger or Bard for magical enhancements.
- Bards: Vicious Mockery harnesses Kenku's mimicking magic. Cutting Words, jack of all trades, and Expertise assist skills. Go College of Whispers or Lore.
- Monks: With Dexterity and Wisdom, Kenku suit Way of Shadow monks. Stealth, nimbleness, and stunning fist overwhelm foes. Multiclass into Rogue.
- Rangers: Archery combined with Mimicry creates deadly trick shots. Take Urban bounty hunter or detective backgrounds. Multiclass into Rogue.
- Clerics: As a Trickery Domain cleric, use disguises and Mimicry to trick others. Seek spells like Disguise Self and enhance skills.
Additional optimized choices include Druids, Fighters, and Sorcerers. Custom lineages open even more possibilities!
Recommended Skills: Stealth, Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Persuasion
Feats: Skulker, Sharpshooter, Dungeon Delver, Lucky, Telepathic, Observant, Actor
With smart class and skill choices, Kenku become masters of deception and subterfuge. But don't forget roleplaying opportunities!
V. Kenku Names and Appearance: Identifying the Ravenfolk
Unlike most races, Kenku names are unique verbal snippets rather than words. Because Kenku identify each other by sound, names mimic noises and voices:
- Warriors take combat sounds like Sword Slice, Bow Twang, or Skull Crack.
- Criminals use animal noises—Barker, Growler, Whiskers, or Squawker. This sends covert signals.
- Artisans pick craft sounds: Metal Hammer, Chisel Chips, or Brush Strokes.
- Non-Kenku translate these names literally, like a Kenku named Cliff diver becoming Diver.
In terms of appearance, Kenku resemble humanoid ravens, crows, or similar birds. Some variations exist:
- Plumage ranges from black, white, brown, gray, speckled, iridescent. Rare bright plumage marks eccentric Kenku.
- Traditional garb includes loose robes with hoods to conceal identifying features. Elite groups adorn robes to display status.
- Talons replace hands and feet. Some use claw caps to enable manipulation or interaction with non-Kenku more easily.
- Kenku average five feet tall with lightweight frames. Elders develop hunched postures over time.
- Voices range from raspy and harsh to lilting and melodic depending on Mimicry influences.
- Yellow, orange, black, and even red-rimmed eyes occur. Eye color holds no special meaning.
So when identifying Kenku, listen for distinct vocal patterns and watch for feathered, raven-like humanoids skulking in the shadows.
VI. Kenku Across the Multiverse: Ravenfolk Campaign Settings
Kenku populate various official D&D campaign settings, adapting their sneaky talents to different environments:
- Forgotten Realms: Faerunian Kenku live nomadic lives in southern cities, earning incomes as spies, scouts, and assassins. Their reputation for thievery makes them social outcasts, leading to insular flocks.
- Greyhawk: Kenku are uncommon in the Flanaess, mostly seen around the Duchy of Berghof, Gnarley Forest, and Cairn Hills. Kenku bandits frequently waylay shipments of gems and pearls.
- Eberron: The shifter-dominated city of Rhukaan Draal in the Shadow Marches contains a sizable Kenku population. Their abilities make them skilled at blending into urban crowds.
- Wildemount: In Matt Mercer’s Exandria, Kenku once served the Raven Queen loyally until their memories were lost battling Tharizdun. Now few recall their proud past.
- Ravenloft: Kenku are rare in the demiplane of dread, but those present lean towards evil alignments, manipulated by dark lords. Mimicry assists deception and infiltration.
Kenku adapt well to various settings, though most uphold their reputation as mysterious urban infiltrators regardless of the world.
VII. Creative Kenku Concepts: Unique Character Ideas
Beyond optimized builds, creative backstories and characteristics make Kenku truly memorable. Here are some ideas:
- A Kenku raised by a kindly gnome tinker who gifted him with mechanical wings, finally allowing the ravenfolk to fly. However, the apparatus is clumsy and prone to failure.
- A Kenku bard who meticulously copies others' songs and performances, slowly stitching together “new” routines from the patchwork. She longs to create original music.
- A Kenku monk seeking enlightenment regarding the curse of creativity. He perfects techniques but cannot invent his own styles, instead combining what he has seen.
- A Kenku cleric/paladin who venerates the patron that cursed her race, seeking understanding of this Act. She communicates using only scripture.
- A Kenku wizard's apprentice who excels at magic through rote memorization but struggles with improvisation during unpredictable situations.
- A Kenku noble who uses disguise and mimicry to impersonate other aristocrats, living a variety of stolen lives.
The Kenku's backstory invites creativity. Design a character that leans into your concept's possibilities!
The Kenku offer one of D&D's most unique races, with built-in limitations that inspire creativity. Their reputation as master mimics, spies, and thieves stems from a bid for freedom that left them bereft of wings and voice.
Yet from this loss comes compelling roleplaying opportunities. With the right class build, backstory, and traits, Kenku PCs bring distinctive talents to any adventuring party. They are uniquely gifted in subterfuge yet tragically flawed.
This guide illuminated everything required to play a Kenku effectively. From deep dives into their lore to optimized class builds, feat selection, and roleplaying tips, we covered all techniques for mastering these wingless ravens. The Kenku remain one of D&D's most intriguing races—now you have all the secrets needed to unleash their potential at your table!
So gather your cloaks, practice your Mimicry, and get ready to become the master mimic you were meant to be. Just try not to annoy your fellow players too much with the noises!