If you roleplay a kenku in 5e without thinking ahead, it will start out fun and charming but soon become annoying and repetitive for those around you. And if your character is the annoying one every session, how likely are you to be invited back in the future?
Have no fear, if you want to roleplay a kenku in 5e, the simple tips in this article will make sure your kenku doesn’t turn into the annoying parrot everyone wants to bonk over the head after the first session.
I chose to roleplay a kenku 5e rogue named Shink in my friend’s Descent into Avernus campaign. Shink was a hit. Everyone at the table loves him and wants to learn more about him. So I know from experience you can roleplay a kenku in 5e, have a lot of fun doing it, and create a positive experience for those around you.
But there are some things you should keep in mind to make the most of your experience.
By the end of this article, you will understand these three tips with plenty of examples:
- Use the kenku’s mimic ability sparingly
- Convey your thoughts through actions
- Bond with your companions like a kenku
What are Kenku?
Kenku are a race of avian humanoids who were cursed long ago, losing their ability to fly and use their voices. They tend to live on the fringes of society and have a poor reputation as thieves and vagabonds. They are known for their agility, deception, and memory.
But what sets the kenku apart from every other race is how they communicate.
The kenku cannot use their own voice.
They can only mimic the sounds and voices around them. This sounds like it would make for a lot of funny moments if your character is just mimicking the rest of your companions all the time, but you would be WRONG. If all you do is mimic the people around you, you’re going to get on someone’s nerves.
Roleplay a Kenku in 5e—Use the Kenku’s mimicry sparingly
If you want to roleplay a kenku in 5e, constant attempts to mimic noises and your companions will get annoying. With that said, the kenku’s ability to mimic is an amazing feature when used in the right situations, so don’t ignore it just because you shouldn’t use it all the time.
Mimic the sound of a wild boar to distract some guards around the corner. Scare your companions early in the morning by sneaking into their rooms and mimicking the deafening roar of a black bear.
But if you want to roleplay a kenku in 5e and have meaningful interactions with your companions and NPC’s, this tip is my favorite:
- Create a few characters in the backstory that your kenku would have spent a lot of time around. Then think about the phrases your kenku might have picked up from them.
When I chose to roleplay a kenku in 5e, I wanted Shink to have three teachers, each with a different voice. Shink was raised by an old master of Shinobi (Wolf Father), taught by a master cutpurse in Baldur’s Gate (Sid), and educated by a young worldly half-elf (Alleana).
Example phrases Shink learned from his teachers
“Trust the shadows“
“Move like death”
“Only fools attack head-on”
“Keep your beak up, kid”
“Remember, kid, your needs exceed their greed”
“Don’t feel bad for the glitterpockets, kid”
“Watch out there, little one”
“Little one! Get back here NOW!”
“Don’t eat that, little one”
Do you see how each set of phrases is distinct?
Wolf Father’s lines are related to the art of stealth and surprise. Sid refers to Shink as kid and uses phrases associated with the life of a cutpurse. Meanwhile, Alleana refers to Shink as little one, and her lines convey a sense of maternal care.
On top of that, each teacher has a distinct voice I mimic at the table.
If you’re not comfortable doing voices, then incorporate nicknames, words, or phrases that are distinct to the character your kenku is mimicking.
This keeps the collection of phrases varied and interesting, so you’re not only mimicking your companions and NPCs you run into. This approach lends depth to your kenku because each set of phrases gives your companions a glimpse into your character’s past.
Now that you have ways of verbally communicating without annoying everyone at the table, let’s explore the alternatives to mimicking/speaking.
Roleplay a Kenku in 5e—Actions speak louder than words
If you can’t convert your thoughts into words, you have to convert them into actions.
What do I mean?
In our most recent session, Shink and his companions entered a dungeon. Shink scouted ahead of the party and found a room that looked like it was made for some kind of sacrifice and/or demonic summoning. So, when Shink returned to the group, he took out some parchment and a pen to write: “Creepy room ahead, empty but not safe.”
That could have also been performed by writing it on the dungeon wall with a piece of chalk. Or maybe your kenku pokes one of his talons with a knife and writes what he wants to say in blood.
Describe the actions of your character and the purpose behind them
It’s perfectly acceptable to describe what your kenku is doing and why.
Let’s say Shink scouts ahead in a dungeon and finds a pressure plate for a trap. He would go back to the group and I would say, “Shink points down the hallway, kneels on the floor, and uses his talons to outline the shape of the pressure plate up ahead. Then he pretends to step on the pressure plate and fall over dead.”
Or in a different situation, I might say, “Shink jumps several feet in the air and stretches his left talon high above his head to show the party how tall the monster is in the next room. Then he puts his talons on his head in the shape of bull horns while mimicking the sounds of a bull.”
Could it be a bull? Maybe a minotaur? That could lead to an improvised game of charades as Shink’s companions try to guess what he’s acting out.
Have fun with it!
Roleplay a Kenku in 5e—Bond with your companions like a Kenku
People typically develop bonds by engaging in conversation and relating to one another through their answers.
But kenku can’t do that, so what can you do instead?
At the end of the first session, Shink’s companions were in a tavern discussing the chaotic events of the day which led them to slay a group of pirates upstairs. Shink took a seat alone at a nearby table because he believed he wouldn’t be able to contribute much to the conversation.
But Shink didn’t want his new companions to think he didn’t like them or didn’t appreciate their help in the last battle. So he ordered a round of ale for the party without them knowing. The barmaid soon brought out the drinks and let the party know Shink had already paid for them.
Immediately, the group warmed up to him and two of these new companions walked over to join Shink, making an effort to get to know him.
Think like a kenku
If your kenku is bonding with someone in the party, mimic a phrase or figure of speech the other character uses. Remember that phrase and use it in moments of excitement or stress with that character.
One of Shink’s companions is a minotaur, and Shink found it amusing how the minotaur would end many of his sentences with a fluttering exhale (like when you put your lips together and blow out your mouth so your lips flutter). Now, whenever Shink wants to get the minotaur’s attention or connect with him, he can mimic the fluttering exhale.
If you can’t have normal conversations with your companions, try the ink and parchment idea. Or use a stick to write what you want to say in the dirt. Use chalk to write on a dungeon wall.
Do things for your companions:
- Trying to impress the pretty elf girl in the group? Wander the streets in the evening and steal someone’s ring as a gift.
- Did your party start setting up camp for the evening? Go off into the woods and hunt for some food. Even if you only get a squirrel or a rabbit, what counts is the gesture. It shows you are regularly looking out for the group.
- Use your pen and parchment, stick, or chalk to draw a picture for someone in the group.
- Be proactive and creative. It’s one thing to be a quiet loner type and avoid the group you’re supposed to be adventuring with. Instead, look for opportunities to show your companions you care about them.
In a Nutshell—Tips to Roleplay a Kenku in 5e
It’s not easy to roleplay a kenku in 5e, but you can certainly make it fun and create unforgettable moments! If you follow my tips, you will have a character who is even more enjoyable to roleplay than a character who can talk.
Remember the tips:
- Use the kenku’s mimicry sparingly. Come up with a few influences in your kenku’s past and think about what phrases or sayings your kenku may have learned from them. Keep that list with you so you can refer to it. Rely on mimicking as one tool for communication, but not your only one.
- Your kenku’s actions speak louder than words. You’ve spent your whole life with no voice, so you’ve had years to come up with other ways of communicating your thoughts. Be animated. Draw pictures. Write your words. Act out things, creatures, and people you see.
- Bond with your companions like a kenku. Since you can’t easily bond through conversation and shared memories, be proactive and do things for your companions. Steal/acquire little gifts. Mimic catchphrases they have so you can use them together. Be the first to buy a round of drinks
If you apply a little creativity to how your kenku communicates and interacts with others, you’ll create some truly memorable moments and interactions.
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
- Make Your Kenku Unique With These 9 Unusual Tips
- The Best Classes for Kenku in Dungeons & Dragons
- Kenku Monk 5e: Unparalleled Master Of Spirit And Agility
What made you want to roleplay a kenku in 5e? How did you make the mimicry interesting and fun? Comment below and let me know!