When playing a kenku character in DnD 5e, consider the following:
- Kenku lore and background
- Special abilities like Expert Forgery, Mimicry
- Rogue- Thief
- Ranger- Swarmkeeper
- Druid- Circle of the Moon
- Artificer- Alchemist
The raven-like kenku in Dungeons and Dragons 5e are cunning, gaining a +2 Dexterity/+1 Wisdom ability score bonus. Though often roguish in nature, the kenku often fit into classes like ranger, rogue and druid, leaning into trickery and staying clear of a one-on-one fight. However, playing this tricky little crow-person gives me creative options—something slightly more unusual.
Kenku lore and background
Kenku come from a mysterious background—some outer realm of air where they were minions to a powerful entity. However, they were cursed and banished to the mortal world because of their lust for shiny treasure. As the story goes, whatever master they served rid them of their wings, home and ability to speak. Now, they make their way through the world as vagabonds and wanderers.
Often found in high places—towers, cliffs, even massive redwood trees—the kenku crave the flight their people once had. This offers a fantastic quirk and story arch to start my kenku build. How is this flightless bird going to achieve a lifelong dream of flying? Fortunately, DnD 5e offers several ways to achieve this goal—whether through a high-level spell or magic treasure.
Therefore, I’ll keep this background in mind when choosing the class. Options like Thief and Artificer especially stick out to me because of this background.
Special abilities like Expert Forgery, Mimicry
Small and versatile, kenku learn abilities that seem to pit them in the rogue category by nature.
Expert Forgery gives me the ability to copy someone’s craftwork or handwriting. Kenku are unable to be original themselves yet gain advantage on rolls to create a forgery. This is a fun way to bring more out of interactions with NPCs. Now, I can pick up skills from towns my party visits.
Mimicry is another roguish feature, giving my character the ability to mimic sounds and voices to near perfection. This creates opportunities to confuse NPCs or foes. Plus, I’ll need to mimic sounds to communicate—sense I can’t talk. Playing this character means a lot of making noises and pointing, but I can make it work to my advantage.
Kenku Training grants me extra skill proficiencies. My choices are Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth and Sleight of Hand.
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Thematically, the rogue thief is the most spot-on class for the kenku. The crow-like nature, bonus to Dexterity, Mimic and Expert Forgery all play into the thief archetype. I crave shiny things, and I’m clever enough to make off with a few magic items. This kenku is obsessed with finding that one piece of treasure that lets him or her fly again—if they could only stop being distracted by every other shiny object along the way.
This rogue would benefit from the classic Sneak Attack ability, granting me an additional 2d6 + damage on attacks with advantage. Plus, I’ll gain Expertise and the ability to use thieves’ tools to a high degree. Uncanny Action, Evasion and Blindsense keep me safe from traps and spell effects.
However, my Thief abilities revolve around breaking-and-entering and a specialty with magic items. Fast Hands gives me the ability to Use Item as a bonus action, which means I can activate a magic item before my foes move. Upper levels grant me Supreme Sneak, along with Use Magic Device. Now, I can use any magic item, even those not intended for me.
Read my total Thief build Here.
A swarmkeeper kenku ranger could use a swarm of crows to attack, move enemies and even grant me the sweet gift of flight. My +2 Dexterity/+1 Wisdom ability bonus fits this build, using Dexterity for ranged attacks, Stealth and AC with Wisdom for ranger spells.
Using a Gathered Swarm of crows, I can add extra effects to creatures I hit with an attack. Therefore, I’ll choose the Archery Fighting Style to increase my accuracy with a bow. Then, my birds can take one of 3 actions:
- Deal extra 1d6 damage to the target.
- Target makes Strength save. A failed save moves them 15 feet horizontally.
- The swarm moves me 5 feet horizontally.
Also, I’ll gain a special list of Swarmkeeper Spells. This list includes mage hand, web, gaseous form, arcane eye and insect plague—all of which use the swarm in interesting ways.
Eventually, Writhing Tide (level 7) gives me the ability to hover in the air for 1 minute. I have a flying speed of 10 feet and can use this ability an amount of times equal to my proficiency bonus. My dark little crow heart may burst.
Druid- Circle of the Moon
Kenku druids would utilize their +1 Wisdom bonus for druid spells and shapeshift into fierce creatures. Ultimately, I’ll gain my dream of flight through shapeshifting. However, I’ll surprise foes until then, transforming from a small, flightless crow-person into a hulking beast. Plus, my high Dexterity score will allow me to shapeshift quickly with a higher Initiative roll.
The Circle of the Moon focuses on shapeshifting, granting me higher-level beasts to transform into at lower levels. I still need to level up to 8 to receive my flying options.
I’ll consider druid spells like cure wounds, animal friendship, beast sense and find traps. Mostly, I’ll think of my spells as adventure tools, with choices like poison spray and spike growth for backup damage options. I might even summon a creature or two.
Check out my full Circle of the Moon build Here.
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The artificer class offers a tinkering inventor to Dungeons and Dragons, giving my kenku the ability to make magic items, build a flying homunculus friend, use firearms and even create potions. My ability score bonuses won’t affect this build as much, except for the maneuverability my Dexterity offers. However, the theme of a quirky crow who can’t speak building useful items is too fun to ignore.
The alchemist subclass grants me medical spells such as healing word and ray of sickness, along with the ability to make daily potions. Because the artificer doesn’t carry many spell slots for their brand of magic, I’ll tap into what slots I have to create potions. I’ll be able to make one of these potions at random at the beginning of each day, using spell slots to create potions from there. Fortunately, I can choose the effect of the potion when I use a spell slot.
My potion choices include a couple of flight options: