I, Kenku (And So Can You!)
Dungeons and Dragons has a ton of awesome races to pick from to create the adventurer of your dreams, but today I’m going to talk to you about one of my often overlooked favorites – the Kenku. So what is a Kenku, and why would you want to play one?
Well, I’m glad you asked, disembodied voice inside my head! Kenku are a race of crow-like bird-men and are most recognizable for their lack of a voice; instead of speaking themselves, they use their gift of mimicry to talk, cleverly piecing together voices and sounds they’ve heard previously to communicate.
Well, that sounds easy. Let’s just jump right in!
Not so fast, disembodied voice! Playing a Kenku may sound easy, and in truth, it can be eventually. But only if you’re willing to put some work into your character first. It can be so tricky to come up with creative noises and hilarious voice clips on the fly (especially if your improvisational skills aren’t very advanced), and many a player can quickly become discouraged into ignoring Kenku mimicry rules, not saying anything at all, or abandoning their Kenku character altogether. This is nothing less than tragic considering the depth of fun and flavor that they can add to a campaign.
So how can you Kenku?
To answer this, let me tell you a bit about my favorite Kenku character, Hiccup.
I came up with the idea for Hiccup while trying to put together a drunken monk because, honestly, the idea of a giant drunk bird doing kung-fu tickles me in a way I can’t properly describe. In my mind, his story so far should be fairly simple; abandoned in the backwoods as a young fledgling, Hiccup emerged and was taken in by a yokel moonshine manufacturer, his wife Lurleen, and a smattering of their kinfolk.
Armed with this simple backstory, I was almost ready to take on whatever my DM had in store but first, it was time to put in the hard work necessary to bring this Kenku to life. What I needed was a trick to make coming up with Hiccup’s “unique” vocabulary quick, easy, and fun. What I needed was a script.
Hard work? A script?! That sounds boring!
That’s where you’re wrong my foolish (yet ridiculously handsome) friend! Building a script for Hiccup was crazy fun, and here’s why; it gave me a chance to fully explore his backstory in ways I normally take for granted and also let me discover what made him unique to me. After all, a Kenku’s vocabulary is a window into how they themselves are treated, the type of people they’ve had to deal with in the past, and even gives us clues as to how they interact with the world.
So what do you suggest?
Well for my Kenku, Hiccup, I made a list of about 20 phrases or sound effects I was absolutely sure he would have come across in his life. As much as possible, I tried to brainstorm multipurpose things for him to shout in battle or bring up in casual conversations. Things like
- “Oh sh*t – what’s that?!”
- “Some type of Gaddamn Bird is what it is!”
- ((Sound of a beer being poured))
- “That Sumb*tch Bird drank up m’hooch!”
- “BIG DRUNK BIRD IS BACK AGAIN!”
- “Ya sold me a faulty scarecrow is what you did!”
- “Elroy, we got any more a that birdshot?”
- ((Anguished shriek)) “It got into my moonshine!”
- “Oh shit! We shouldna done that Elroy!”
- “I’ll fix you, you no good sumb*tch!”
- “Y’know bird, we ain’t so different you ‘n I”
I also made sure to specifically include a number of sounds and phrases like
- My name – ((the sound of drunk hiccups))
- A yes phrase – “Hooey! That’s some good sh*t”
- A no phrase – “Aw Hell No! F*ck that bird!”
Now that I had some ready-made options to use at the drop of a hat, I could focus more on playing my character and not on constantly coming up with spontaneous verbal masterpieces.
But wait – that’s not even the best part!
By far, the coolest thing about playing a Kenku is getting to watch their vocabulary evolve. In short, this means that I am constantly updating my list of things Hiccup has heard and can therefore say. Like that thing the villain screamed, before you and the rest of your party destroyed them? Now it’s all yours!
Now go out and live your best Kenku life.
Thanks so much for reading! Think you can come up with a cooler Kenku than Hiccup? Tell us all about them (and the things they can say) in the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list for a lot of great free content!
2 thoughts on “How do Like the Kenku Do?”
This article was written by the very talented Chelsea Cameron! If anyone’s seen our Moon Elves’ Masquerade playtest (and can suffer through the audio issues) you can see a bit of Hiccup for yourself.
https://youtu.be/D7RolWQRXG4 A link to the mentioned play test.