Meta Description: The crow-like Kenku in Dungeons & Dragons 5e are more than just minions to an adventure's villains. This D&D 5e guide will help us make an interesting Kenku.
Unlike their avian cousins, Kenku in Dungeons & Dragons 5e lost their wings when their ancient progenitor had committed a mysterious crime. As a result, Kenku evolved to look more like humanoid crows - retaining black feathers, a beak, and talons for hands and feet. However, most people know Kenku to be sly, cunning, secretive, and untrusting creatures. Adventuring parties could use a Kenku for their natural ability to work well in teams and players may love playing a Kenku for their natural affinity with shadows and sowing chaos. Players who want to play a mysterious avian character can rely on a Kenku to envelop their party with intrigue and mystery.
This guide explores what we know about Kenku society and how you can make compelling and mysterious Kenku characters that can help propel your team dynamic into new heights.
Basics: The Traits
Kenku are particularly associated with “henchmen” such as the Goblin, which might make other people treat them with a side-eye. However, players who decide to make a Kenku character might find them interesting, as their art of forgery and mimicry aren’t just “passed down,” they’re inherited. And depending on their background in the adventure, Kenku might be on a constant quest to gain a voice to call their own.
Players who want to explore this idea with a Kenku should take note of these traits:
Ability Score Increase: DEX + 2, WIS + 1
Age: Kenku reach maturity as early as 12 years, and usually live up to 60 years.
Size and Speed: Medium (5ft tall, and weigh 90 to 120 pounds on average), 30ft walking speed.
Alignment: Kenku don’t like making promises and they generally try their best living their lives out of trouble. They lean towards Chaotic and Neutral alignments.
Racial Features: Kenku have these racial features:
Expert Forgery, where Kenku have a natural talent in duplicating the craftwork and handwriting of other creatures. They have Advantage on all checks that involve creating forgeries or making duplicates of other objects.
Kenku Training, where Kenku have proficiency in two of these skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth, and Sleight of Hand.
Mimicry, where Kenku apply their talent of forgery to mimic voices and sounds they’ve heard. Creatures that try to tell if these sounds are imitations have to make a contested roll, where they must succeed a WIS (Insight) check versus the Kenku’s CHA (Deception).
Languages, of which the Kenku know how to write and read Auran and Common. Kenku can only speak these languages thanks to their Mimicry trait.
Kenku: The Best Classes To Build
Thanks to their Dexterity and Wisdom bonuses, Kenku make nimble and mobile creatures. Moreover, these “expertise” make them quite ideal for professions and classes that rely a lot on mastering movement and mobility, as well as being quick of thought.
For those who don’t want to immediately associate DEX-based Kenku with Rangers and Rogues, there are actually other interesting class options out there. The ones below are classes that fit not just the technical traits of the Kenku, but also their potential flavor:
Bard: A Kenku Bard might be the last thing parties expect to join them - after all, Kenku don’t have natural voices and they’re master forgerers. However, it’s perhaps exactly this reason that makes a Kenku Bard quite the compelling character, as their entire personal arc might tackle a lot of things regarding the nature of creativity in a person. Is the creativity of a person only limited in their capacity to create? Can a Kenku Bard no longer create given their reputation for forgery?
Flavor-wise, a Kenku Bard might make an interesting addition to the party. After all, as master forgerers, it might be the first time in any party to experience a Kenku performance not with their own material, but material either copied from their experience with others or a mish mash of what they’ve encountered.
Kenku Bard may end up becoming skill powerhouses, providing valuable support outside combat to skill checks the party may need. Thanks to Jack of All Trades, Expertise, and even Magical Secrets, a Kenku Bard may have a massive advantage roleplaying situations even without their spells in tow.
Kenku Bard might be interested in opting for more roleplaying-oriented Bard Colleges such as Whispers, Satire, Lore, and Eloquence. Interestingly, Kenku Bard may also be interested in more combat-oriented Colleges such as Valor and Swords.
Cleric: Legends state that the Kenku lost their ability of flight and their voice due to a curse from a being or a god. If an adventure decides to tackle this aspect of Kenku culture, a Kenku Cleric might add an interesting flair and flavor into this part of their ancestry. After all, would a Kenku Cleric worship or despite the same deity or being that took their voice? What’s their take on divinity given this “curse”?
Flavor-wise, a Kenku Cleric can definitely add some spice to their personal goal and story. After all, how would a Kenku, one without a voice of their own, commute with their chosen Deity and Domain? Interestingly, DMs and players can also tailor-fit Channel Divinity options to have extra flavors unique to the status of that Kenku.
The WIS bonus of Kenku immediately makes them qualified for support roles like the Cleric. However, their innate DEX also gives them the capability of being nimble fighters, enabling them to take on more combat-oriented roles or at least use long-ranged weapons aside from the traditional mace.
Given the nature of the Kenku as master forgers and “copycats,” they may seem ideal for the Trickery, Forge, and Knowledge Domains.
Fighter: Thanks to the innate nimbleness and wizened nature of the Kenku, they make great dexterous combatants. Instead of the Strength-oriented Fighter, a Kenku may also rely on their innate Dexterity in order to be a formidable combatant in both melee and ranged. Since they specialize in fighting quickly and from afar, their Fighter build may focus on attacking swiftly and precisely against opponents.
Thanks to their natural DEX Ability Score Bonus, Kenku can make great ranged Fighters. The additional WIS can be useful for WIS (Insight) checks you might want to make against enemies.
Given the DEX-based bonus, Fighters should probably get either the Archery Fighting Style for long-ranged combat or even Two-Weapon Fighting (that works well with the Dual Wielder Feat) for Versatile weapons.
Likewise, archetypes useful for a DEX-based build include an Arcane Archer, Gunslinger for ranged fighters, or even the Cavalier, Champion, or Rune Knight for more flexible melee options.
Monk: Interestingly, Kenku who want to maximize their Dexterity and Wisdom might want to take up the mantle of the Monk. Thanks to their discipline and spiritual training, a Kenku Monk would be able to use their very body in order to dominate the battlefield, should force be necessary. Unlike other classes, it’s very likely for the Kenku Monk to remain calm and diplomatic even in the most stressful of situations.
The Ability Score Bonuses towards DEX and WIS make Kenku a prime candidate for the Monk class. That’s because players will need less points to invest in making their Monk nimbler and more agile, and instead pay closer attention to CON in order to increase survivability.
Thanks to the innate DEX Ability Score Bonus of the Kenku, they pose great potential for Unarmored Defense. Moreover, they can easily benefit from both the Martial Arts and the Ki options of the Monk, given their reliance on DEX and WIS, respectively.
Given the flexibility of Monastic Traditions in 5e, Kenku Monks can choose a Monk subclass that fits their particular playstyle. Drunken Master, Kensei, and Open Hand easily enhance the Monk’s melee attack options. However, Dragon Master, Four Elements, and Shadow Traditions also expand the Monk’s arsenal with handy magical gimmicks.
Wizard: Kenku Wizards might be quite the entertaining members of the party, especially since the rest of the adventurers might notice their Kenku comrade using different voices when casting spells with verbal components. However, despite the lack of an Intelligence Ability Score bonus, the sheer curiosity and desire for Kenku to hone their craft might make them expert Wizards. After all, a Kenku - master forgerers - would likely be able to cast spells down to the letter, enabling them to easily hone their arcane skills by remembering exactly how to cast spells as their masters have taught them.
Unlike other classes, Wizards tend to focus on acquiring more spells as the character levels up. As such, a Kenku Wizard might not have a lot to offer in terms of features, but they’re juggernauts in terms of spell versatility. This gives the Kenku Wizard a lot of opportunity to build their character and arsenal of unique and useful Magic Items and other trinkets that make them an ideal addition to the party.
Like the Sorcerer and the Cleric, Wizards can be extremely versatile classes. And thanks to the skill of the Kenku in terms of forgery, it makes sense for them to specialize in a particular Wizarding School or even branch out into other classes via Multiclassing. Kenku Wizards who plan on focusing on a particular School should choose according to their playstyle.
Finding a Voice: Interesting Character Backgrounds
Kenku are known not just for their flightless nature, but also for their mastery of forgery. However, this specialization in mimicry and forgery aren’t “special” talents, they’re a component of a greater Kenku “curse” - the lack of a true voice. Regardless of the nature of this curse, Kenku are doomed to forever find their unique voice, as they can only mimic those of people around them.
This caveat introduces a loss of identity - which in itself can be the crux of a Kenku’s story. Here are some interesting character backgrounds that can fit this very conflict:
Entertainer (Player’s Handbook): Given their mastery of forgery, it’s very reasonable for a Kenku to end up being an entertainer. They may be a ventriloquist or perhaps a storyteller, capable of switching voices and telling stories they have heard themselves. However, what’s perhaps interesting is a potential conflict of such a background. After all, Kenku who struggle with finding a true voice might be great “singers,” but their songs and their voices might not be theirs to begin with. How would this affect their perception of themselves and the world?
Tools: Disguise Kit, Musical Instrument x1
Proficiencies: DEX (Acrobatics), CHA (Performance)
Multimaster Aristocrat (Princes of the Apocalypse): Building on Kenku's skill with forgery, it’s likely for them to find themselves easily mastering various crafts. As a Multimaster Aristocrat, Kenku might be travelling in search of valuable commodities or items they can potentially acquire, recreate, and sell for profit. Likewise, a Multimaster Aristocrat may be searching for ways to improve on their craft, stopping at nothing to be a master in their chosen trades.
Tools: Artisan’s Tools x1, Musical Instrument x1
Proficiencies: CHA (Deception), CHA (Performance)
Pirate (Player’s Handbook): Perhaps the best part of a Kenku pirate is they can say “Ahoy matey!” in exactly the kind of pirate voice you want. Kidding aside, it’s interesting for a Kenku to become a Pirate, but not entirely impossible. Their lack of wings doesn’t necessarily remove a potential desire to explore the world and go “beyond,” which may make the idea of exploring the seas attractive to them. A Kenku Pirate using the seas as a means to compensate for their lack of flight might make for an interesting character arc.
Tools: Navigator’s Tools, Vehicles (Water)
Proficiencies: STR (Athletics), WIS (Perception)
Secret Identity (Player’s Handbook): A Kenku might also be hiding behind a Secret Identity. Unlike the Spy background below, a Secret Identity would have the Kenku fulfilling the role of two separate individuals - perhaps with the same goals, but with two different approaches. This background can make a Kenku character interesting, as they may very well have a hidden or personal agenda that the party might not necessarily be aware of.
Tools: Disguise Kit, Forgery Kit
Proficiencies: CHA (Deception), DEX (Stealth)
Spy (Player’s Handbook): A Kenku’s specialization in forgery and copying documents make them the perfect spy. After all, a little Minor Illusion here and more powerful disguise methods in public can make them perfect for espionage. Are they a part of a secret organization about to do something sinister? Are they going undercover to expose a crime ring or unveil a conspiracy? Or perhaps they’re working alone, enjoying their days as a vigilante or a con artist?