If you’re looking to make your kenku stand out from the rest of the flock, look no further. We’ve put together a list of nine unusual tips to make your kenku unique and take your character to the next level.
The kenku are a race of flightless avian humanoids who made their debut in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5e. They are on the shorter side of humanoids (about the same height as dwarves) and have arms instead of wings, with talons for hands and feet. Originally, they were just another humanoid monster in the Monster Manual, but they were added as a playable race in 5e.
I enjoy playing as a kenku because they offer a roleplaying experience different from every other race. Especially if you’re looking for a challenge. And if you’re like me, a good challenge will inspire you to be creative. For me that makes Dungeons and Dragons 5e more enjoyable.
By the end of this post, you will know how to:
- Weave a rich backstory for your kenku
- Craft a personality for your kenku to fit your playstyle
- Be creative with the kenku’s unique way of communicating
- Use your character’s skills to earn coin
- Put the kenku’s primary special ability to work
- Choose an interesting character class
- Get creative with your instruments of death
- Use your kenku’s traits for unforgettable roleplay scenarios
- Work with your DM to come up with creative solutions along the way
Make Your Kenku Unique—Let’s Start from the Beginning
The kenku once served a mysterious and powerful being on another plane of existence. According to stories handed down over generations, the kenku betrayed their patron. The kenku plotted to steal a beautiful treasure in their master’s possession and flee to the Material Plane.
Unfortunately for the kenku, their master learned of their plans. As punishment for their betrayal their master rained down three hexes upon them in a fit of rage:
- The kenku’s cherished wings shriveled up and fell off of their bodies, leaving them grounded forever.
- The spark of creativity was snatched from their souls because they had used it to conspire against their patron.
- Their voices were silenced to ensure that the kenku could never divulge any secrets.
Their patron then released the kenku onto the Material Plane, believing them to be sufficiently punished. Since that time, they have wandered the Forgotten Realms, looking for a place to call home. Due to their nature, they tend to exist on the fringes of civilized society. They prefer run-down metropolitan areas, typically rife with crime and suffering economic hardship.
Tip 1—Use That History to Weave a Rich Backstory
Now you know where the kenku come from. So let’s use that to make your kenku feel like a living breathing individual.
Because they can no longer fly, kenku long to be near the sky. So flocks of Kenku may be seen living in tall, decaying buildings. They are street-smart and know how to get by on their wits alone. And because kenku live in areas overrun with crime, kenku put their natural abilities to use making a living as thieves, spies, and assassins.
Your kenku character can be a reflection of any of these aspects. Here are some questions you can use to start constructing a character grounded in kenku history and customs:
- What city did your kenku grow up in?
- Is your kenku’s flock still living in the same run-down building? Did they move around a lot? Are they struggling to survive, or are they thriving?
- If your kenku didn’t grow up in a city, did something or someone force you and your flock out of a city?
- Was your kenku raised to be a thief, spy, or assassin?
- If not, what made your kenku take a different path? An unusual experience growing up? An unexpected mentor?
Take the road less traveled in your answers to the questions above if you want to make your kenku unique to start with. Maybe your kenku grew up in an odd city where kenku are readily accepted by society. Maybe your kenku was adopted by a kindhearted noble family after losing her flock.
Tip 2—Use Kenku Lore to Craft a Personality That Fits Your Playstyle!
The kenku’s background drew me and many other players to the race in the first place. Not many other player races have as much roleplaying potential built right into their nature.
Kenku are typically greedy, secretive, and engage in conspiracies to acquire money and power. They are also followers to a fault so they go to extreme lengths to be accepted. This is what makes them excellent spies, thieves, and assassins. Due to their small size and agile nature, they operate in small gangs for protection and to overpower their enemies. Therefore, it’s dangerous for a lone kenku to wander too far (which you can use as motivation for joining an adventuring party).
The beauty of Dungeons and Dragons is you can incorporate all of the above to make your kenku unique or you can choose bits and pieces. It’s up to you and your DM.
Don’t forget about your future!
Your character isn’t just guided by his or her past. We all have hopes and dreams for the future. And those hopes and dreams guide our decision-making in the present, along with our past experiences.
Remember, the kenku lost their wings, their voice, and their creative spark. So, you could play a kenku who is:
- on a quest to do anything to fly again—emphasis on anything because kenku typically have questionable moral principles
- trying to find their creator and earn their voice back—what lengths would YOU go to in order to get your voice back?
- an aspiring musician struggling against the curse of “no creativity”—how would you make music or write poetry without being creative?
Tip 3—Think Outside the Voice Box to Make Your Kenku Unique
Kenku are a race of birdlike creatures stripped of their own voice as punishment for conspiring against their creator. As a result, instead of speaking in natural language, kenku employ mimicry.
It adds a degree of difficulty to roleplaying not found in any other race, but learning to be creative with your speech will make your kenku unique. Many fall into the trap of just mimicking their adventuring companions—which gets old fast.
So what can you do instead?
- Need to distract a guard? Mimic the woman who called for help in town earlier.
- As a kenku bard, you can mimic the sound of a musical instrument.
- Impersonate an NPC’s close friend to obtain vital information from the NPC.
- Scare bandits away with the deafening roar of a grizzly bear!
- Mimic the sound of dishes crashing to the floor to distract the tavernkeeper or barmaid.
As long as your kenku has heard the sound before, your kenku can mimic it. So put together a list of sounds your kenku would have come across in the past, especially while growing up.
Remember, your kenku lived a life before becoming an adventurer. That’s years and years of life experience around different races, animals, and the sounds of city life (or life outside the city).
Do you want more great ideas for communicating like a kenku without overusing mimicry? I assembled a list of tips with examples from my experience playing as a kenku named Shink (my favorite character so far).
Tip 4—Make Your Kenku Unique and Get That Gold!
Characters in the Forgotten Realms still need to pay the bills. So think about what your kenku might do for work. We’ve discussed the typical “professions” (thief, spy, assassin), but you’re not limited to those.
Your kenku fighter could be a bodyguard for the ringleader of the kenku gang you belong to. A kenku bard could earn some coin busking while the adventuring party travels from town to town.
Kenku are experts at forgery, so anything related to that skill would be a good choice. And it doesn’t have to be illegal work.
- Maybe the local lord or mayor needs new versions of certain important documents. This would also make for an excellent opportunity to memorize the sample of a document you can use to pass checkpoints or enter a city’s gates without raising suspicion.
- Or maybe your kenku monk makes a living copying religious texts for the monasteries she stays at when traveling.
Tip 5—Put that Expert Forgery to Good Use!
All kenku possess an ability called Expert Forgery, which allows them to replicate any papers or script with ease as long as you have a Forgery Kit. And you don’t need to have the original document in hand, you only need to have seen a sample of it.
I touched on a couple ways to earn coin with Expert Forgery, but what else can you use it for? Here are some practical examples using different skills from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything:
Arcana. A forgery kit can be used in conjunction with the Arcana skill to determine if a magic item is real or fake.
Deception. A well-crafted forgery, such as papers proclaiming you to be a noble or a writ that grants you safe passage, can lend credence to a lie.
History. A forgery kit combined with your knowledge of history improves your ability to create fake historical documents or to tell if an old document is authentic.
Investigation. When you examine objects, proficiency with a forgery kit is useful for determining how an object was made and whether it is genuine.
Other Tools. Knowledge of other tools makes your forgeries that much more believable. For example, you could combine proficiency with a forgery kit and proficiency with cartographer’s tools to make a fake map.
Quick Fake. As part of a short rest, you can produce a forged document no more than one page in length. As part of a long rest, you can produce a document that is up to four pages long. Your Intelligence check using a forgery kit determines the DC for someone else’s Intelligence (Investigation) check to spot the fake.p. 81 of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
You have the skills. All you need is a sample to work with.
Tip 6—Choose an Unconventional Class to Make Your Kenku Unique
The Dexterity bonus and natural Stealth proficiency make the rogue an easy choice, but are we going for the easy choice? You’re reading an article to make your kenku unique, so let’s think outside the box.
Let’s not forget kenku also receive a +1 to their Wisdom ability score.
Clerics, druids, and rangers benefit from a high Wisdom stat since they use Wisdom as their spellcasting ability. But what makes those choices more interesting is how spells are cast in Dungeons and Dragons 5e.
All spells require some combination of three components to cast:
- Somatic—A forceful gesture or a complex set of movements
- Material—Specific materials, a spellcasting focus, or component pouch
- Verbal—Most spells require the chanting of mystic words.
See where I’m going with this?
Spells with a verbal component require the chanting of mystic words to cast. And most spells have a verbal component. If kenku can only mimic others, a kenku spellcaster would need to hear someone else speak the mystic words before being able to cast a new spell.
So, how will your spellcasting kenku learn new spells that have a verbal component?
- If you’re playing a kenku cleric, can you silently pray to your patron deity to recite the mystic words so you can mimic them? Will you have to find another cleric who can recite them for you? Maybe a cleric in your party can take on that role and become a mentor.
- Who will demonstrate the verbal component of new spells for your kenku druid or ranger? Can you have an established relationship with a fey creature that pops in and out of your kenku’s life from time to time that speaks with you? Maybe a minor deity of nature took pity on you and steps in to teach you how to recite the verbal component.
If you’re looking for more tips on unusual class ideas for kenku, I put together a guide to help you pick the best class for your kenku!
Tip 7—Finesse Me, Baby
Playing a kenku basically necessitates the use of finesse weapons if you want to take advantage of their Dexterity bonus in melee combat. The finesse trait means the weapon’s attack and damage are determined by a character’s Strength or Dexterity.
If you’re going for a ranged build, this doesn’t matter as much because all ranged weapons are Dexterity-based. But as my great-great-great-grandmother used to say, “It’s better to have a finesse weapon and not need it, than to need a finesse weapon and not have one.”
There are several weapons in D&D 5e that possess the finesse trait:
- Dart (1d4 piercing)
- Dagger (1d4 piercing)
- Whip (1d4 slashing)
- Scimitar (1d6 slashing)
- Shortsword (1d6 piercing)
- Rapier (1d8 piercing)
It may look like a short list, but this article is about getting creative, remember?
I wanted to do something different with a rogue when I created my kenku, Shink. So I made him a ninja! And while there are disputes about historically accurate ninja weaponry, I settled on the following:
- Primary weapon: wakizashi
- Secondary weapon: tantō (2x)
- Throwing weapon: shuriken (5x)
- Ranged weapon: short bow
Out of those four, only the short bow is present in the Dungeons & Dragons 5e Player’s Handbook.
Create your own weapons to make your kenku unique!
The wakizashi is a short sword used by samurai (social class) and ninja (military occupation). So I took the 1d6 damage from the 5e shortsword and gave it slashing damage instead of piercing.
The tantō is a dagger used by samurai and ninja, so I used the 1d4 piercing damage from the dagger. And shurikens are throwing stars used by samurai (and possibly ninja) so I used the same 1d4 piercing damage from daggers.
Does it matter if I use a tantō or shuriken since they both do the same damage?
Nope, that’s just for flavor because this is Dungeons and Dragons, and (as long as the DM says it’s ok) you can do whatever you want!
Tip 8—All for One and One for All
The DM should have a conversation with you about how your kenku ended up with an adventuring party. The civilized races don’t accept kenku generally, because of their general demeanor and the difficulty they have communicating.
Members of the kenku race usually don’t strike out on adventure just because they’re bored. Something has to happen to cause kenku to leave their home, like the slaughtering of their flock (which makes for excellent motivation for revenge).
Occasionally, a kenku gets tired of criminal life and is brave enough to seek out a better life. Some of the most daring kenku might even take it upon themselves to venture out in search of ways to fly, or break their racial curse.
Those who are brave enough to leave their flocks will still be drawn to find a companion to follow. In fact, kenku are such adamant followers with a deep desire to win the approval of others that you can use it for fun roleplaying.
Examples of fun roleplaying situations for your kenku:
- Did your kenku hear a noblewoman give an order to her guard to open a door for her? Following orders is so ingrained in him that he thinks the order is for him so he goes rushing over to open the door for the (now surprised) noblewoman. Watch out for the retaliation from her guard for making him look bad.
- Let’s say your new adventuring companion mutters under her breath, “I wish someone would get me a damn drink.” It’s time for your kenku to take off and find that drink because you want her approval!
- Did one of your adventuring companions yell a vague order in the middle of combat directed at someone else? No time to think, your kenku MUST follow that order regardless of the consequences.
This one can be extreme so don’t worry about being consistent with it. Chalk it up to not paying attention to EVERYTHING going on around you.
Tip 9—Work With Your DM to Make Your Kenku Unique
The kenku are a challenging race to play given their traits. If you don’t want to dive into the deep end of roleplaying this race, work with your DM to develop fun and unusual workarounds.
For example, do you want a unique solution to mimicry?
- Your kenku can have a relationship with a deity who allows your kenku to speak normally as long as you’re in good standing with the diety. And how you maintain that good standing is up to the DM.
- Maybe your kenku is a wizard’s apprentice and the wizard can cast a spell on you to communicate telepathically, but she has to renew the spell every X number of days.
- You could have a fey or animal companion that acts as your voice. You would communicate with the creature telepathically (kenku can think original thoughts, they just can’t speak them) and then the creature repeats your thoughts out loud for others to hear. Maybe it’s a little bird sitting on your shoulder. Or a mischievous faerie dragon that follows you around and occasionally pops in and out of the Material Plane.
The key here is there’s a drawback. That’s what makes the solution unique. Don’t be afraid to ask your DM for help fitting your character into the campaign.
In a Nutshell—Make Your Kenku Unique With These 9 Unusual Tips
If you’re looking to make your kenku stand out from the rest, these tips will help you do just that. Use the kenku history, lore, and personality traits to make your kenku unique and fun to play. Whether it’s by picking an uncommon weapon combination or coming up with a backstory that sets your kenku apart, using these tips will make sure your character is one-of-a-kind:
- Explore the kenku’s lore to weave with a rich backstory
- Craft a personality for your kenku to fit your playstyle
- Be creative with how your kenku communicates
- Figure out what your kenku does to pay the bills
- Use Expert Forgery to your party’s advantage
- Choose an unusual class
- Get creative with your instruments of death
- Use your kenku’s traits for entertaining party dynamics
- Work with your DM to come up with creative solutions
If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask your DM. Good DMs want their players to have a good time, so they will work with you to make your experience enjoyable.
Want to take your kenku experience to the next level? Check out our series of guides for this fascinating player race:
- Kenku 5e Lore: A Guide to the Mysterious Bird-People
- Roleplay a Kenku in 5e: Simple Tips for Epic Adventures
- Kenku Monk 5e: Unparalleled Master Of Spirit And Agility
- The Best Classes for Kenku in Dungeons & Dragons
DID YOU ENJOY THIS ARTICLE? WHICH TIP IS YOUR FAVORITE? DO YOU THINK I’M AN IDIOT? DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR MAKING A UNIQUE KENKU CHARACTER? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!