Learn how to play as a Kenku in D&D 5e
What are Kenku?
Kenku are a cursed race in D&D 5e. They were once creatures capable of flight with their own voices, but had these abilities stolen from them by an evil master. They are now bound to the ground and must rely on mimicry to speak. They retain their raven/crow appearance, appearing as a short humanoid with feathers, talons and a beak.
As a broken people, they are rarely accepted by society at large and instead find themselves living off the scraps of society. They have become adept at thievery, forgery and imitation, using these skills to survive.
The kenku are a playable race in D&D 5e and our guide will help you know what they can do and how to play as one.
Kenku Features in 5e
|Ability Scores||+2 to one ability score and +1 to another or +1 to 3 different ability scores|
|Size||Medium or Small|
|Traits||Expert Duplication, Kenku Recall, Mimicry|
|Book found in||Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, Volo’s Guide to Monsters|
If you want to play as a kenku, your character will have the following traits and abilities:
Expert Duplication – When you copy writing or craftwork produced by yourself or someone else, you have advantage on any ability checks you make to produce an exact duplicate.
Kenku Recall – Thanks to your supernaturally good memory, you have proficiency in two skills of your choice. Moreover, when you make an ability check using a skill in which you have proficiency, you can give yourself advantage on the check before rolling the d20. This can be a done a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Mimicry – You can accurately mimic sounds you have heard, including voices. A creature that hears the sounds you make can tell they are imitations only with a successful wisdom (insight) check against a DC of 8 + your proficiency bonus + your charisma modifier.
- Mimicry in combat: Kenku’s mimicry ability allows them to imitate sounds and voices they have heard. This can be creatively used in combat to confuse or distract enemies. Mimicking the sounds of reinforcements or a commanding officer might create openings or cause enemies to hesitate. Be aware that the effectiveness of such tactics rely on your charisma and proficiency bonus so make sure you play a high charisma character.
- Mimicry out of combat: Mimic the voice of a key NPC, create distractions, or even forge documents by imitating written language you’ve seen. This can open up new possibilities for problem-solving.
- Skill Proficiency: Kenku receive proficiency in two skills of their choice. Consider skills that complement your chosen class and play style, such as stealth, persuasion or deception. In fact, Kenku are the absolute masters of skills and can give themselves advantage on particularly crucial checks. This can be hugely important in dangerous stealth and social interactions where a failed check will result in devastating consequences.
Which classes are good for Kenku?
With the introduction of Monsters of the Multiverse and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, races can now choose what ability scores they gain in from their race. This means that you can style your character more closely to the class you’re playing with. What this does mean is it’s a kenku’s traits that matter most when it comes to determining which class works best with their features.
Most kenku abilities will primarily help you outside of combat but 2 of the 3 do have broad usage. Expert duplication is probably the most limited option you have. Advantage on checks to duplicate writing or craftwork is decent but you may not use this ability very often.
Kenku recall though has benefits whatever class you choose (though some will gain more from it). You gain proficiency in 2 more skills of your choice but can choose to have advantage on certain crucial checks if you have proficiency in it making passing these checks even more certain. This means the more skill proficiencies you have, the better (looking at you bard)! Mimicry is also a great ability for copying voices of others. If you have low charisma though, you’re less likely to succeed here so Kenku do lend themselves well to charisma based characters.
Best classes for kenku
Bards are definitely the best class for kenku. Thematically they fit nicely with their role as secondary rogues, imitators and performers. They also have the high charisma that makes the most of mimicry and have many skill proficiencies to take advantage of kenku recall. This means that there will be many skill checks you can choose to gain advantage on making your bard nearly impossible to fail on certain skill checks.
Paladins also tend to have high charisma so benefit most from the mimicry trait. While paladins have less skill proficiencies than some other classes, having 2 extra will definitely be a benefit and there are many charisma based skills for paladins to take advantage on and ensure they regularly pass these skills as a likely face of the party.
Warlocks are in a similar boat to paladins. High charisma allows them to benefit most from mimicry while 2 extra skill proficiencies helps the warlock round out on what are likely to be more charisma-based skills. Advantage on these skills will allow the warlock to make a very reliable face of the party. If a Kenku took the Great Old One as a patron, they should use the Awakened Mind ability so they communicate pseudo-telepathically. This makes an interesting incentive for a character to make a shady deal with a mysterious elder god.
Worst classes for Kenku
Kenku are a very role play focused race and any class that is unlikely to invest in charisma or skills is likely to gain least. Wizards tend to get less out of a Kenku’s traits than any other class. This is mainly because they tend not to be charisma based characters and there are very few intelligence based skills for the wizard to utilise. This means they’ll gain less from the extra skill proficiencies a Kenku offers. In addition, wizards already have ways to gain advantage in skill checks such as using a familiar to offer help or the utilising the Enhance Ability spell.
Roleplaying a Kenku
As with any race in D&D 5e, kenku have a wide variety of personalities and capabilities and though many lean towards the explanation provided above, this doesn’t not mean the kenku you play needs to be like most other kenku. Your character could be an outlier in kenku society and culture. Having said this, if you’re going to play as a kenku, then there are some things worth considering:
- Where did you grow up? – Did you grow up on the streets, as part of a gang or were you with a pack of Kenku that stayed away from society? Few Kenku are able to achieve nobility, but with the right disguise and some clever forgery, it could be possible!
- How do you feel about other races? – You’ve likely spent your life as an outcast or on the fringes of society. You might have been bullied by larger races or at best, neglected and ignored. How do you feel about other races? Do you distrust them? Or do you aspire to emulate the traits that can lead them to success in life?
- How have you survived? – In a society that likely shunned you, how did you manage to survive? Did you attach yourself to a gang or master? Does this leave you with some skeletons in your closet? An unpaid debt to the mob could come back to haunt an unlucky adventurer