A Kenku in 5e, is a race filled with questions on how to roleplay. The reason being, while a kenku is filled with roleplay potential, the roleplay given to them is difficult and confusing to do. Therefore, this post will be going over the lore behind the 5e kenku, as well as the best way to overcome the roleplay troubles in their lore.
I should also mention; I am testing out different ways to write the lore for a race. One I go into explicit detail for the race on abilities, history, and roleplay. As can be seen in my review on Tritons. In my other style though, I am working through how I would build a class with a certain race’s lore. As can be seen in my Firbolg Druid. So, let me know in the comments what you think, so I know which style to write these in from now on! Now, let’s start the review, shall we?
Kenku 5e Lore: The Beginnings
The first part I do when I plan to roleplay a character is to make the backstory or a voice for a character. To do this I use part of the lore behind the race to build it. Then what is the general lore for a kenku in 5e? The kenku are a race of flightless avian birds that were released by Wizard of the Coast in Volo’s Guide to Monsters that was used to allow players to play monster races. They supposedly use to serve a diving being. Many believe to be either Grazz’t or the wind dukes of Aaqa. However, their desire for an unidentified sparkling treasure, caused them to rebel against their master. Unfortunately, before they could harness the treasure their master found out.
It was said, he was so furious that he cursed the kenkus to have their entire race wings wither away so they could no longer fly. He was not finished though, afterward to ensure they could no longer attempt to become their own leader; he took away the spark of creativity from them. So, they could no longer be their own leaders. Finally, to finish it off he took away their voice so they cannot worship anyone. Then banished them to the material plane. The result led for the entire race to become dependent on repeating the actions of whoever they follow. This coupled with an indescribable longing to fly, led for a new beginning to their race.
Kenku 5e Lore: Cursed Anew
The curse and banishment took a serious toll on the race. Unimaginable suffering happened as they could no longer think for themselves. Rather they must follow what they have already seen and live like that.
So how did this affect them? Well, the race became even more obsessed with greed and viciousness. After all, how could they change and be good when the only thing they have seen was misery and greed. The cycle continued for ages for them as they began breaking off into their own flocks. Each followed the rules to the letter and any hint of betrayal dealt with severely and harshly.
Thanks to this lifestyle and ideology, the kenku in 5e became excellent rogues. Able to mimic anyone’s voice they had heard, able to copy any documents they have seen, and excellent thieves.
Kenku 5e Roleplay: Three Main Traits
It was thanks to this curse and the new lifestyle that developed three strong traits to roleplay in a kenku for 5e. The first one was a chaotic neutral alignment toward living. Meanwhile, the second one was an unsaturable desire to fly. While the third, and most popular, is to only mimic others.
Kenku Roleplay: Chaotic Neutral Downsides
Their new lifestyle not only altered how they live but also how they thought. Their once community like group altered them into a chaotic neutral alignment. Meaning the most important person is them self and they will gladly betray the flock if it is to save their skin. Now then how does this affect your roleplay?
Well, there are two big ways to play this up. One is to be selfish and mess with the party. Meaning at the end of the day you are focused only on yourself and will do anything to protect or better yourself. This has a few downsides to it though.
The most obvious being your party is going to hate you. If you only play for yourself, then everyone else is going to feel used and unwanted. This creates tension not just in your party, but also in your group as well. Meanwhile, the second big issue with this playstyle is it can pose a challenge for moving along the story. Often times, narrative plot points are lost on parties that are filled with people who see themselves outside of the rest.
For example, if you see someone being beaten up, if you only are in it for yourself, you are going to ignore them. However, if you see them as a part of your world, then you would probably get involved and find out why the DM put it there. This second point can be circumvented though by talking to your DM, as maybe they can work that into how they create their plot points. This way you can act selfish, but still, move the plot.
Kenku Roleplay: Chaotic Neutral Upside
So, then what is the other way to roleplay chaotic neutral kenku? Well, this is to be selfish toward your group. Since you can no longer be creative. You have become dependent on your group to show you new stuff for you to mimic. This created a sense of importance in your group, causing you to act for the group. Meaning, if your group is in danger you will do anything to protect the group even if it is evil.
What this allows, is to circumvent both of the downsides mentioned above. As now, your party won’t hate you for your actions as you now act in their best interest. Meanwhile, since you are acting in your parties’ best interest, you would help encourage acting with the world around you. Greatly, helping the DM, by giving you reasons to act in the scenarios he presents to you. It can also create some great moments as they see you sacrifice so much for them creating a deeper bond in your group as they come to appreciate your character more.
So, the decision is yours. Play selfishly for yourself or play selfishly for your group. Both are chaotic neutral and can be fun. That said, I would recommend playing for the group, as over the course of the campaign it allows for the strongest bonds to be made.
Kenku Roleplay: Flying
Now that you have an idea for how to play chaotic neutral, let’s take a look at flying. Just like mankind, ever since the kenku lost their wings, have been obsessed with the idea of flying. This gives you plenty of options to roleplay. Perhaps it is your whole reason you decided adventuring? Or maybe, knowing that you can never fly. Have deep greed to tear down anyone’s ability to fly. So, no one can know the joy.
This gives you two routes you can play; one being obsessed with the idea of flying yourself. While the other route is to be evil and destroy what you desire most. It can create some strong rp moments either way. For example, say you heard about a broom of flying. Do you now go on a journey willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of flight? Or do you go on the adventure get there and destroy it to prevent anyone else from having the freedom of flight. What it really boils down to, is this. Has your character seen uses for good? Or are they a character that has only seen hate.
Kenku Roleplay: Mimic
The best way to roleplay this without being a bummer to the party is to be an amplifier for your group. Don’t push it to the point where you become a trumpet blasting in everyone’s ear. But protect the party and go with the flow. After all, you cannot be creative meaning you must have someone else for you to mimic. So, mimic your party, if your paladin is being nice, then be nice, but if your warlock is being extra, be extra. Be a mimic that will do anything for the party even if it is not the best thing for others.
This goes back to the chaotic neutral section. Basically, you play for the group, which is the ultimate lifestyle for a kenku in 5e. Think about it, they started off serving a diving being. They then lost everything and are forced only to copy others. This creates a dependence on others for their survival. So, they must continue to forever serve others. Which makes mimicry the strongest roleplay potential and can be seen in every aspect of them.
Kenku Roleplay: Mimic Speech
Now comes the hardest part for most people to roleplay. Due to the fact that they cannot speak for themselves. They can only copy other people’s sentences. This left a lot open for a debate on how to roleplay them. Many thought it meant they had to repeat the sentences word for word. While others thought they could combine different words and sounds to form their sentences. Well, Jeremy Crawford, lead rule designer for Dnd, stated on Twitter that they effectively speak like Bumblebee from Transformers.
This takes care of the big problem many had, which was limiting their vocabulary to a few sentences. Then what are the roleplay abilities left of speech with this clarified? Well, lots actually! Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Kenku Roleplay: Mimic voices
The first way to roleplay is to try and talk in different voices. This can be lots of fun as now you try to mimic famous actors, random people, or your friends to make it fresh and new for roleplay. This, of course, comes with its own challenges.
Such as, you need to be able to do different voices. I know it is rather obvious, but it is true. Nothing can be more frustrating than having your party think you are doing a drunken dwarf voice when in actuality you are trying to do a Nordic barbarians voice. Trust me I know from experience.
That said, there are a few ways to overcome this challenge. One is to actually record people and use their voices to create your sentences. I actually saw a person do this once and use their computer to craft sentences with difference voices mixed into each sentence. It was really awesome to see, but it also took him forever to speak and prevented him from being able to act quickly on his feet.
The other way to circumvent this problem is to practice. This is great for any beginner with voices as it means you are given a fun challenge to roleplay all sorts of voices and improve your skills if you ever DM or have fun character ideas that you want to add flair too. Just be careful, sometimes it might feel like forever before you get a voice down. Just remember to keep trying at it and eventually you will have a unique skill not many have.
Kenku Roleplay: Line Quoting
Another way to roleplay the 5e kenku’s mimic trait is to quote lines from other people. This could be movie quotes or even catchphrases. This is my favorite way to roleplay a kenku for many reasons. One it is a lot of fun trying to voice Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “I’ll be back” after a great moment. And two, it becomes a lot of fun having awesome moments in the game be remembered for the rest of your life, by having your kenku quote those moments in similar times.
That said, there are still challenges toward this playstyle, the big one being you won’t always have moments where your lines make an exact match. This can cause lots of problems with miscommunication if you try to stick solely to your lines. Therefore, my suggestion for beating this problem would be to either come up with new lines and add them to the list or combine words from your phrases and build a new sentence that way. This way you can add new sentences to your kenku all the while staying in character too.
Kenku 5e: Backstory Creation
So now comes the part where I add an example and show you how I would begin planning out my kenku for 5e. Then how would I do that?
Simple, taking into account the Kenku backstory, I would try and work with another player that I trust to have me as their servant. In this sense, I would be a kenku rogue that owes the other player a great service for taking me in after my flock was destroyed.
Then to create a roleplay environment, I would then ask the other player, what would be 15 common lines to hear from his player. Afterward, I would come up with another 15 that I would hear from my expired flock. Once I have 30 general lines, I would begin working with that as my vocabulary and speech. After all, the most notable trait for a kenku to play with is the fact they can only mimic not speak on their own.
Once this is taken into account, the next point for roleplay I would take would be to get into a mindset of following. As we talked about above, I favor a mindset of selfish toward my group. This said, to mix things up I will make him selfish to himself. To roleplay this, I would focus on one aspect he is selfish on to not be a complete jerk. So, I would do potions and tie it into his backstory as an alchemist. This way he collects and is greedy to get any potion he can find but isn’t extremely detrimental to the party. Finally, I would make him obsessed with the idea of flying and pursue it. The reason being the adventurer I am a servant to save me so now I repay that kindness that way.
Kenku 5e: Summary
What did you think of the kenku in 5e? It seems to be a great class with a few problems. However, if done right, they can make an exceptionally well character that amplifies any group by playing out their chaotic neutral background, longing to fly, and mimic speech. I hope you enjoyed and if so let me know. Or if you liked my tips on how to enhance your group with this race, then check out my guide on being a great player. It is filled with details and stories that I have gained over my years of playing that help any player be exceptional in their group. I hope the day is fantastic and full of fun with your new kenku character. Keep on rolling!
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