Haunted by an ancient crime that robbed them of their wings, the flightless kenku wander the world as vagabonds and burglars who live at the edge of human society. Kenku suffer from a sinister reputation that is not wholly unearned, but they can prove to be valuable allies.—Volo’s Guide to Monsters
What are Kenku in 5e DnD?
The Kenku are a strange avian-humanoid hybrid race. Some say the best of both worlds but often, even to the Kenku themselves, it would seem more like the worst of both.
They are believed to have found this form after betraying their otherworldly master, who cursed them. They lost their ability to fly but did gain the power of speech, sort of.
They now wander the outskirts of society as vagabonds and thieves, partly due to their penchant for nefarious activities, partly because of the reputation which, perhaps unduly, keeps them at arm’s length from decent society.
The real fun with Kenku characters is not in their appearance, limited to that of a Corvid-like (Crows, Rooks, and Ravens), but in their voice and communication.
As the Mimicry taint explains below, Kenku derives their language from words and sounds they have heard. Much as parrots and other birds will repeat phrases and words.
A well-educated Kenku, someone with who all manner of languages have surrounded, will be able to speak seamlessly and fluidly.
A Rogue straight off the streets is more likely to only communicate in fragments and sound effects, having spent most of his adult life avoiding contact and seeking the company of his kind. This can make for some amazing role-play and exciting encounters, especially in the company of those who haven’t encountered this race before.
Kenku Racial Stats 5e
All Kenku classes have these basic stats and abilities.
Ability Score Increase: The fact that The Kenku gain +2 DEX and +1 WIS makes for some very good combinations with several character classes.
Size: They are medium size, the standard for most adventuring races.
Speed: The Kenku have a walking speed of 30 feet. Again an average pace for most adventurers.
Expert Forgery: Not the most exciting of traits, it confers an advantage to attempts to create forgeries and duplicates. Not that valuable for normal gameplay, but if you needed extra cash, you could forge valuable items and sell them. You do still need to have the appropriate tools to hand to complete such work.
Kenku Training: Specialised cultural training means you can access two free additional skills. This is the main reason for taking the Kenku as your character race. Three of the four available skills are Dexterity-based, which, when added to the race additional +2 in that statistic, makes for a very agile character.
Mimicry: This is an extraordinary racial trait and one that the players and DM can have a lot of fun role-playing. This inbuilt racial element means that Kenku can only replicate sounds they have already heard.
It means that in certain situations, communication with a Kenku can be very challenging and limited. On the other hand, it means they can mimic the sound of a beast howling or a baby crying. If you have opted to play a Rogue, or something similarly nefarious, then playing this attribute can be a lot of fun.
Languages: Although the Kenku understand both Common and Auran, their communication still has to adhere to the Mimicry rules above
Which classes work best for the Kenku race?
Dexterity can be found commonly as an ability score bonus. Still, it pairs exceptionally well with the Kenku’s additional bonuses in that area to create the basis of a character who will do well in the more sneaky and nefarious arts.
If you see yourself as a Roguish creature of the shadows, the Kenku race is always well worth considering as a race. These are some of the best classes to consider.
Clerics who rely on Dexterity can be pretty strong individuals, and the additional Wisdom bonus is excellent to help with their spellcasting abilities.
To get the best out of your bird-like Cleric, you need to choose a Domain that doesn’t rely on Heavy Armor, which will cancel out much of the benefit of the race’s natural Dexterity. Light Domain or Trickery Domain are the best to specialize in.
The Wisdom bonus is the main reason a potential Druid character might consider the Kenku race. The Dexterity bonus will also help keep them out of combat-related trouble somewhat. But apart from that, it is a combination that offers only a few advantages.
Dexterity is just as good an option as Strength for Fighters, especially if you want to adopt a playing style that is more on the cautious side than merely charging head-first into danger.
Some racial traits add some exciting aspects to Fighter’s less dynamic sub-classes. Overall, the Kenku makes pretty solid Fighters, especially if you want to indulge in interesting roleplaying situations.
The additional ability score bonuses that come from the Kenku’s inherent nature both work well for a Monk. The racial traits add some interesting additional layers to an already mystical and otherworldly class of character, especially because Kenku is pretty silent much of the time.
The bonuses for both Wisdom and Dexterity are perfect for the Ranger. The additional traits also push the Ranger’s nature further toward the Rogue’s stealth and secrecy. The two classes are already pretty close in the grand scheme.
Perhaps the best choice for any Kenku character. They already lean towards skills and bonuses that make them pretty sneaky, and they have a reputation for being outsiders and oddballs. Is there such a thing as being too sly, too covert, or too hidden? If there is, the Kenku Rogue is it.
Final Thoughts on Kenku Race 5e
The art of playing a Kenku is found by understanding their backstory. They are seen as being cursed and are so mistrusted by most. This has driven them, either as individuals or small communities, to the fringes of society.
As an outsider, they will be cautious, stand-offish, and loners. It is said that their yearning to regain the power of flight often leads them to form small communities in high places — deserted towers, cliff tops, and the highest points of cities where they can often live unnoticed high above the general population.
Once you have established where your Kenku character fits, you can start developing your communication skills. A Kenku that hails from the seclusion of a distant forest will have been exposed to very different sounds from one who calls the rooftops of the big city home.
Similarly, suppose you or your community have been used to dealing with other races. In that case, they will be far more eloquent and communicative than one whose family made their living as highwaymen or bandits working away from the urban masses.
The Kenku offers some great roleplay opportunities. They make decent fighters but their stealth and abilities to be outside society, and especially their skills at Mimicry, deliver some excellent skills if you want to avoid a fight. Also, their ability to forge means that if you need papers to get into a city or a letter of protection from a royal patron, you are the person for the job.
All of this makes them very useful in a wilderness/above-ground adventure or urban scenario, one where, unlike many dungeons runs, combat is only sometimes the most obvious or best first response.