Kenku as a player race

I had a friend that was interested in playing a kenku instead of aarakocra in game. I made this template if anyone else wants to include them in game. Also neat for framing out a non-standard NPC or villain.


  • Ability Score Adjustment: +1 Dex, +1 Wisdom, -1 Strength

  • Class Options: As aarakocra, except defiler is an option and the levels for cleric and rogue are switched.

  • Height (M/F): 60 in / 55 in + 2d8

  • Weight (M/F): 90 lbs / 70 lbs +3d20

  • Aging:
    Starting: 11 + 1d4 years
    Middle/Old/Venerable: 30 / 45 / 60
    Maximum: 60 + 1d20

  • Languages:
    Bonus Languages: Kenku (see below)
    Recommended Languages: Common

  • Movement: 6, Fl 18 (D)

  • Special Abilities:
    Kenku gain hit dice by class.

A Kenku’s tough hide grants him a natural AC of 5 . As with all creatures with natural armor, this is superseded by (does not stack with) actual worn armor. Due to their light frame, kenku take an additional 1d4 damage from bludgeoning attacks.

While they lack claws on their hands, Kenku are able to attack with their powerful beaks and talons. Talons may only be used when flying, allowing two attacks for 1d4 damage each. Beak attacks can be used both on foot or in the air, dealing 1d6 points of damage. Kenku wielding weapons can also make a beak attack, but suffer the normal penalties for fighting with two weapons when doing so.
Kenku are able to fly but do so clumsily (speed 18, maneuverability class D). They are somewhat slow to reach maximum speed, and they make wide turns. Forward movement equal to at least half the movement rate is required. Turns are limited to 60 degrees in a single round. In aerial combat, a Kenku make only one pass every three rounds.

All kenku have well-developed disguise skills. They gain the disguise proficiency for free. They are adept at passing for human, suffering only a -4 penalty on such checks (instead of the typical -7 to pass as another race), although their disguises often have telltale large noses.

Kenku are able to communicate telepathically with other Kenku within a range of about one-half mile. This telepathic communication is selective, and all Kenku involved in the communication must be aware of each others presence and rough location. It cannot be used to determine the presence or location of other kenku (unless they deliberately announce such).

Kenku gain several magical abilities as they increase in levels.
At 3rd level, a Kenku gains the ability to Shape Change (as the spell) once per month into any generally humanoid or avian form, and can retain their new shape for up to seven days. The Kenku can return to his original form whenever he wishes, but may not assume more than a single alternate form per use of this ability.
At 4th level, the Kenku gains the ability to turn Invisible, a number of times per day equal to her level.
At 5th level, the Kenku gains the innate ability to Call Lightning once per day (as the spell). Kenku have such control over this ability, they do not need to concentrate to invoke it. When a storm is nearby, all they simply need to do is let out a bird-like screech to initiate the calling of lightning from the sky.

  • Special Restrictions:
    A Kenku’s natural telepathy allows their clans to quite thoroughly indoctrinate them in their societal morals even before they hatch. A Kenku character must be at least partially neutral in alignment. Kenku psionicists must always select Telepathy as their first discipline.
    Kenku have 30% magic resistance, even against magic that is beneficial. They may not voluntarily lower this magic resistance.
    Kenku may never wear armor of any sort (their wings get in the way), but will occasionally uses bracers, shields, and similar defensive aids.

The Kenku are bipedal, humanoid birds. The typical Kenku resembles a humanoid hawk wearing human clothing. Kenku have both arms and wings. When on the ground, their wings are usually folded across their back and at a distance may be mistaken for a large backpack. They range in height from 5 to 6 feet. Their feathers are predominantly brown with white underfeathers and face markings. Their eyes are a brilliant yellow in color.

Kenku are a secretive race that lives among the human and demihuman races without the bulk of the population ever being aware of their presence. The actual structure of kenku society is elusive. The kenku themselves either refuse to comment or lie. Those kenku lairs that have been encountered tend to be small underground chambers or cave complexes. It is believed that large caverns deep underground may hold sizeable kenku communities.

Kenku have a strange morality, drilled into them telepathically from the day their egg is laid. Put simply, deception is a high art among the Kenku, while speaking the truth is a grave sin. They may appear to be friendly, helpful, and even generous. They freely give treasure to humans and demihumans, but it is rarely genuine and crumbles into dust within a day. They may offer nonverbal advice to humanoids, but this is carefully designed to mislead, often leading the receiver into dangers and difficulties they might otherwise have avoided.

Kenku, while capable of humanoid speech, seldom do so. They are able to communicate among themselves via a form of telepathy; and will often give out bird-like squawks to give the impression of speaking among themselves, though these are gibberish.

Younger kenku are reckless and prone to audacious plans. They have been known to pass themselves off as gods and collect the worshipers’s offerings. Older kenku are more reserved and cunning, preferring to kidnap wealthy humans and demihumans as a source of revenue. Kenku do not usually kill unless their own lives are threatened by the survival of their foe, or in retaliation for the death of one of another Kenku.

Kenku reproduction is similar to that of large birds. The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs that hatch after 60 days. New hatchlings are featherless, helpless, and have 1 hit point each. Hatchlings grow swiftly, and within six to eight months they have adult feathers and are able to function independently.

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Kenku seem like they could be a good fit for Dark Sun. I thought this suggestion was just personal embellishment of the setting though. But reading over a bit of the Revised edition, Kenku are mentioned several times throughout the book, though not as player options.

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I have a player running one right now and it doesn’t seem unbalanced. Very similar to aarokocra, but it’s nice to have a bit more a way to have them in urban environs. I had an encounter on the road with some before, so the race wasn’t introduced out of the blue either.

I like the idea of them.
The only thing that gives me slight trepidation is the stipulation they have to constantly be untruthful. Distrustful and tricksy seems like an interesting quality for the species. But specifically needing to lie all the time seems like that could get tiresome pretty quickly if turned on the rest of the party.

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Better than claustrophobia! :wink:

I find the +1 to Dex unnecessary. Based on the flight class its already a clumsier bird than the aarakocra. Usually I try to avoid a net bonus or negative in the ability scores unless it is balanced elsewhere. I like the use of Wisdom. I would consider boosting it to +2 and then subtracting a -1 from Con.

I am not sure about the 30% magic resistance in Athas, and Call Lightning is a bit excessive. I would make the powers psionic instead with Animal Affinity (Human), or Chameleon Power to cover 3rd / 4th level abilities.

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One thought on the magic resistance would be to convert the dwarven ability / restriction on to them. Just paging through Terrors beyond Tyr the only things with magic resistance are a High Drik, Dune Reaper, Fordorran, the advanced undead (Kaisharga, Krag, Meorty, Raaig), Psurlon, Obisidian Retriever, and Stalking Horror. The Kenku would be out of place in that list.
On the other hand if you keep it then there should be a really good Athasian history reason hidden in there. What makes the Kenku special and how did they develop their resistance to magic?

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Finally I think you need a stated position between the kenku and aarakocra. Two bird people, one tablelands, I doubt they like each other. One likes mountains and cliffs, and the other likes underground caverns. One is a bit holier than thou and the other are tricksters. I would guess Kenku enjoy messing with their cousins, while Aarakocra despise them.

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When I adapt from established monsters, I find little to no reason taking away abilities. MR working even towards beneficial magics does make things both a boon and hindrance. And they are canon, so they are included in the list of monsters with MR. There’s no reason why this can’t be more common in other imported or converted monsters.

As for call lightning, you need a pre-existing storm (or at the very least heavy cloud cover). As a DM that’s completely manageable at 5th level, you can simply play God or roll for the current weather. In my game where the kenku roll next to half giants I find that this isn’t overpowered.

Funny you should mention Aarakocra, that’s exactly how I treat the two races. Kenku tend to try and steal from the other bird folk as often as possible. I will most likely add it to the background at some point formally.