The allure of playing a race of crow people in Dungeons & Dragons has been fairly universal. Crow people have seen a few reconstructions over their lives. This culminates in the Kenku in Dungeons & Dragons 5E, an extremely unique race compared to all others. This is not the first time that Kenku has been introduced, but it’s great to see them come back in the most modern version. So, if you’re thinking about running these echo-birds, check out our Kenku 5E race guide!
The Kenku is one of the monstrous race options introduced in Volo’s Guide to Monsters. As such, they tend to be a little more chaotic and self-serving in nature.
Once, the Kenku were a proud race, capable of flight and speech. They served Grazz’t and the Wind Dukes, until one day, they betrayed their master. Their master cursed them in three ways; their wings could no longer carry them, their creativity was stolen, and their voices were taken away. Then, the Kenku were sent to the Material Plane to suffer amongst cities ridden with crime.
Kenku want flight, they want flight so badly. Any Kenku spellcaster is well-respected in their community if they find any way to learn how to fly. They are willing to risk their life if they think there’s a reasonable chance to steal or purchase a flight-based magical item. They live in high structures in the effort to replicate flight, making them useful messengers or lookouts.
Their lack of creativity (a curse that I personally despise) makes them more useful as cronies and minions. They can mimic others quite effectively, both in voice and in writing. This makes Kenku interested in sticking around powerful leaders, both to learn new sounds to use and learn their writing. They are fantastic translators or builders, though few Kenku find this very interesting, and would prefer to search for flight.
Kenku communities, or “flocks”, are often sought after as good choices for fresh meat. They are skilled, cheap workers for evil or wise masters alike. A Wizard might like a Kenku for their ability to copy a spellbook over, while a Necromancer might like them for their ability to lure adventurers into traps. Thieves’ guilds especially understand the usefulness of Kenkus.
Sometimes, a Kenku might strike out for themselves, either because their flock is dead or they find crime boring or not worth it. This might be an ambitious or even brave fellow, or simply trying to find a way to break their curse. They would still love to find an intelligent or charismatic ally to copy and follow.
Kenku names are perhaps my favorite name type to come up with! Check out our Kenku Name guide for more information.
Kenku do not have a subrace to play around with; looks like Wizards were hit with a curse of creativity for these guys! Just kidding; you’ll have plenty to work with in the basic Kenku attributes.
- +2 Dexterity, +1 Wisdom. Dexterity is a very flexible stat, no pun intended. Dexterity can be used for attack rolls, AC, saving throws, and some rather useful skill checks. This is a great statistic to have a +2 in, but does restrict some of the Kenku’s builds to be less Heavy Armor oriented. Wisdom is the most central mental stat, being the most common saving throw and the most useful for skill checks (like Perception). So your character has bonuses to two extremely useful stats!
- Medium, 30 ft Speed. Neither of these are beneficial or bad for you. Just average! Know that you don’t weigh much for a medium creature, so it might be easier to save you from a fall or something.
- Expert Forgery. Whatever. This might be a good idea to throw out if you’re looking to enter a city or a party or something, but otherwise doesn’t come in handy. Maybe if you’re a Wizard, or you’re helping a Wizard out, this could be interesting.
- Kenku Training. The primary reason to be a Kenku (other than the great statline). Two whole skill proficiencies is pretty fantastic, and you’ve got some solid options. Acrobatics is generally useful, while Deception, Stealth, and Sleight of Hand matters more for specific builds. Really interesting for rogues!
- Mimicry. Perfect mimicry is rather cool, so it’s good that you can choose Deception for free. You won’t fool everyone with this, but your mimicry is completely unmagical, and thus can bypass immunity to illusions. You can create some really, really interesting solutions to puzzles if you roll well on your Deception.
- Languages. Auran is a bit rare on the material plane, but might come in handy if you head towards the higher areas of the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. Your Mimicry restriction is pretty hampering, but not as much as you might think. You can always say you heard a priest or a previous leader tell you most words that you might need, if you’re looking for words.
The Kenku’s statistics and free ability proficiencies make them good in quite a number of roles. However, they are not universalists; the rather static race and lack of subclasses make them better used in some classes more than others.
Good Classes for Kenku
- Cleric. Kenku Clerics are extremely cool. Your Dexterity will fill out your Medium Armor AC. You get a ton of useful skills to work with, more than most Clerics could dream of. That might come in handy for you! Flavorwise, talking in prayer might be one of the most interesting uses of Mimicry I could think of! The lack of Strength limits the Heavy Armor domains however, so keep that in mind. You might want to be a Cantrip/Spell-based cleric.
- Druid. Similar to a Cleric, the Druid Kenku is good. You get the good stats, you get extra proficiencies, and you get some weird utility. You can even communicate purely through animal noises, though that gimmick will be quickly annoying. Still, Kenkus are actually very solid for Druids. You might be sad to not get Darkvision or Low-Light, but it’s worth it for the utility.
- Fighter. Decent choice for a Dexterity-focused Fighter. Your skill set won’t be utilized too well, but your high Dexterity will be enough to carry you along. And hey, having some Deception or Stealth might be useful for out-of-combat scenarios, so you can make Fighter good in social encounters!
- Monk. Your stats are perfect for standard Monk builds. You get extra proficiencies, like Stealth, which make you have better utility. You’ll miss your good visions that other races can offer, but that doesn’t matter too much. This is a great combo.
- Ranger. Once again, probably perfect stats. Rangers have great ranged builds, thanks to the Archery Fighting Style, and the Kenku makes that work well. Your spells will have good DCs, too! Your Training racial feature will make you even better out of combat, something the Ranger didn’t need too much help with. It’s still not a bad idea!
- Rogue. The Kenku makes the Rogue ridiculous. You start with 7 skills (including your Background), which lets you cover a ton of situations. Your Wisdom is mostly wasted (unless you really want to try the Inquisitive, which is not recommended). The big thing is you have high dexterity and really fun racial utility to work with.
Bad Classes for Kenku
- Artificer. Dexterity isn’t bad for the Artificer, nor are extra skill proficiencies. However, without a boost to Intelligence, the Kenku Artificer’s casting will be left a tiny bit behind compared to your other caster options. Before picking an Artificer, please consider Cleric or Druid, as those might do the job better with your Wisdom bonus.
- Barbarian. No Strength, no Constitution… Dexterity Barbarians are not impossible to make work, in which case you have a utility-focused Barbarian. Your damage suffers a little bit too much to make this the most reasonable option. It’s not even the best Dexterity Barbarian option!
- Bard. This one is close. You’re missing the Charisma bonus to make it a reasonable option. However, the extra skill proficiencies, awesome utility, and the chance to sing all of your lines might be enough to make you consider it. Your spellcasting suffers a little bit too much to make it optimal, sadly.
- Paladin. Paladins benefit far too much from Strength and Charisma to really make a Kenku Paladin worthwhile. You can make a Dexterity-focused Paladin if you’re wanting to, but a Cleric might be a better pick most of the time. The Paladin does benefit from the extra skills, but that’s about it.
- Sorcerer. Same problem as bard. The skills are nice, and so is the Dexterity. But the lack of Charisma makes your spells just a touch too weak most of the time. Your early and midgame usefulness will suffer, and you don’t get enough in return.
- Warlock. Bit of a broken record, but Charisma is really, really good for a Warlock. Your Dexterity is good, but your Wisdom is wasted and your extra proficiencies don’t matter too much. There are better options for a skill proficiency-based Warlock, like Tabaxi.
- Wizard. Wizard Kenkus benefit from the Dexterity, the extra skills, and arguably the ability to roll twice when writing something down. That can be a really cool benefit! Unfortunately, your spells will suffer for this decision. Don’t pursue flight this hard! Check out the Druid first!
The Kenku is one of the most interesting races that 5E can offer. Mimicry is really awesome, and you actually have great utility features and a good statline. Please, give it a whirl the next time that Wisdom is gently involved in your Dexterity build. Trust me; a Kenku Cleric can be one of the most fun builds you’ll play!