Dungeons & Dragons first introduced the kenku in the Monster Manual III for Edition 3.5. They are a race of wingless avian creatures resembling ravens. Originally just another race of humanoid bad guys for the player characters to beat on, they have since been introduced as a playable race in the 5th Ed. expansion Volo's Guide to Monsters.
You might wonder what a kenku player race adds to the game, where there's already a perfectly serviceable bird-race available. Aarakocra even come with wings! Well, kenku have a lot of juicy flavor to mix into your roleplaying experience. If you're thinking of playing one, consider some of these tips.
10 Speak Creatively
When reading Volo's Guide, one of the first things you'll notice about kenku is that they can't talk. At least, not in the way most races can. According to their legends, kenku were robbed of the power of speech as punishment for plotting to overthrow their creator. So instead of having regular old conversations, instead kenku have the power of mimicry. They can almost perfectly imitate any sound or voice. It adds a little extra challenge to roleplaying, but part of the fun of the kenku is learning to get creative with your speech. Try describing the sounds your character makes, or even imitate them yourself.
9 Don't Assume All Birds Can Fly
At the same time kenku lost their voices, they also lost their wings. They are as a race no longer able to fly. Their flavor text explains that you often find flocks of kenku living in tall, dilapidated towers because they yearn to be close to the sky. Isn't that sad? That's just the kind of tragedy ripe for creating an adventurer. However, don't pick this race because you want to play a graceful flying bird-person. That's what aarakocra are for.
8 Come Up With A Backstory
There's so much potential for interesting backstory when making a kenku adventurer. They were originally monstrous creatures, living in ragtag groups of brigands or assassins. According to their description, they even now tend to be minions and excel at following orders. Is your character a reformed minion of an evil overlord trying to atone? Are they searching for a way to undo the curse of their people? Or are they just searching for the next Big Bad to pledge their services to? There's a lot of flexibility for where you've come from.
7 Remember Your History
With your character's backstory in mind, you can start to build a fully-fledged (pun not intended) character. Remember how kenku can only repeat things they've heard before? That seems to imply that kenku have a pretty incredible capacity for recall. Do you remember every sound you've ever heard, let alone well enough to imitate it?
So if you've come up with a history for you character, start thinking about what sounds they might have heard before. The sounds of a bustling city or of a living forest? Have they lived around other races? Do they know any words at all? It can make a big difference during the game.
6 Mimic, Mimic, Mimic!
The kenku curse didn't just take away their voices—it gave them an incredible power of mimicry. We're sure there are a few dastardly players out there already thinking of ways to exploit this little trick. You can use a kenku's natural mimicry as a means of distraction, like the sounds of shouting to draw off some guards. Or you can trick an NPC into revealing sensitive information, maybe by making them believe you're a close friend. The opportunities are limitless.
5 And Forge, Too
Their ability of mimicry and memory doesn't just extend to their voices however. They also have a trait called Expert Forgery, which allows them to recreate any documents or handwriting with ease, as long as they've seen a sample of the original. Do you need certain paperwork to get into a city legally? Call a kenku. Or maybe you want to draft a note that will lure some important figure out of the safety of their fortress. As long as you can get your claws on a sample, you're all set. The kenku skill set really lends itself to creative problem-solving, so not every session has to turn into a fight.
4 Play To Your Strengths
Like any playable race, there are certain bonuses kenku receive to their stats upon creation. They get a +2 boost to their Dexterity score, as well as a +1 to their Wisdom. The Dex bonus makes them an obvious choice for a rogue and their in-game history even supports that. Many kenku are assassins or thieves, so it only makes sense their statistics would reflect that.
But there are other options, too. A Dex and Wis boost means they would also make excellent rangers, maybe an isolated individual who rejected the criminal tendencies of their fellows. Or even a kenku bard, who mimics the sound of an instrument with their voice!
3 Lean Into The Weirdness
Talking to a kenku is a weird experience. For any NPCs not used to that kind of interaction, it might even be an unpleasant one, having some bird person make incomprehensible noises at you. Or maybe your character is someone who's been around people a long time and knows a lot of words...only they're all in the voices of different people. How unsettling would it be to have some many-voiced horror trying to haggle the price of a healing potion? You might turn these little in-character quirks to your advantage. Use your terrible voice to intimidate the shopkeeper and see how that goes.
2 Make Use Of Lore
The kenku lore is fun! It's what draws a lot of players to the race in the first place. Not many other player races have so much meat for roleplaying and choosing motives baked right into the mechanics of the race. You could be playing a kenku who's trying to find their creator and earn their voice back. You could be an aspiring poet desperately struggling against the curse of "no creativity." Or you can even just be a wizard hoping to learn the fly spell and rub it in your god's face. Have fun with it!
1 Work With Your DM
Admittedly, kenku with all their quirks might be a difficult race to play. If you're a first time player or are unsure about getting deep into the roleplay aspect of the game, it's understandable to be intimidated. It's highly recommended that you use your DM as a resource if there's anything you want to discuss about your character and how they fit into the campaign. A common solution to the speech issue is having the character be gifted normal speech by a god or patron...as long as they do the god's bidding. Your DM is there to help, so see what you can come up with together.