D&D 5e: Kenku Race Guide
Intro to the Kenku
Kenku are flightless, raven-like humanoids that scuttle around the edges of society eking out a living as messengers, spies, and lookouts. They excel at stealth and subterfuge which may be a reason they are often seen as little more than minions. Are you up to challenging that stereotype? Ok, maybe they lack creativity, the ability to change plans on the fly, as well as the ability to speak except by parroting words and voices they’ve heard before. These quirks simply add flavor to the gameplay of you, a discerning player of culture.So grab a little black cloak and stick to the shadows as we hunt for the best classes for the Kenku!
Ability Score Increase
Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Kenku have shorter lifespans than humans. They reach maturity at about 12 years old and can live to 60.
Kenku are around 5 feet tall and weigh between 90 and 120 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
You can duplicate other creatures’ handwriting and craftwork. You have advantage on all checks made to produce forgeries or duplicates of existing objects.
You are proficient in your choice of two of the following skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth, and Sleight of Hand.
You can mimic sounds you have heard, including voices. A creature that hears the sounds you make can tell they are imitations with a successful WIS (Insight) check opposed by your CHA(Deception) check.
You can read and write Common and Auran, but you can speak only by using your Mimicry trait.
Best Classes and Archetypes for Kenku
From a lore perspective, being a Kenku Artificer would be nigh impossible due to the lack of imaginative skills of the Kenku. As far as building your own Kenku out to be an Artificer, it is a choice you can make. You would be ill suited for the role and I would honestly recommend looking at other classes to have a fun character that contributes to the party in the role they have.
Alchemist – Mix some elixirs, get some spells. The Alchemist doesn’t add to your Kenku skills.
Armorer – You can make your armor into an infiltrator model which gives you 5ft speed boost, and a 90ft, 300ft long range weapon built in.
Artillerist – The eldritch cannons don’t make up for missing out on your racial bonuses, others do this much better.
Battle Smith – This subclass also ignores the Kenku racial features, so despite the steel defender, skip this one.
Barbarians rely on strength to win the day and having a tough constitution to ensure they live to enjoy it. While not all Barbarians are towers of hulking muscle, your size and lack of natural toughness makes you need to play catch up to be on the same power level as your allies. There are a few skills that barbarian provides that can synergize with a Kenku character, but those are far outweighed by the downsides.
Ancestral Guardian – Get some extra staying power and mitigate damage allies take.
Battlerager – Dwarves only
Beast – The Beast hungers to be in the middle of combat, and you probably won’t have enough dexterity to be hard to hit, nor enough health to survive long once you have been.
Berserker – Gives you fear skills and resistance to fear.
Depths – Offers a teleport for quick disengage/mobility, augmenting your stats, and a splash damage ability.
Juggernaut – Other races do this better, your DEX and WIS won’t save you here.
Storm Herald – Offers area of effect auras while raging.
Totem Warrior – Bear – Toughens you up with resistance to all damage but psychic and later an area of effect intimidation
Totem Warrior – Eagle – During rage become harder to hit, eagle eyes, and fly for short bursts.
Totem Warrior – Elk – Go fast. Smash though foes space if you have a good STR score.
Totem Warrior – Tiger – Lets you jump higher, mostly useless if you took proficiency in Athletics or Stealth as one of your racial bonuses.
Totem Warrior – Wolf – Out of the Totem warriors, this is the most useful one, you get an aura that gives advantage on attack within 5 feet, move stealthily at normal pace, and a bonus action knockdown on hit.
Wild Magic – Requires high constitution to use your Wild Surge effectively.
Zealot – Extra damage and you’re harder to kill.
Kenku make decent Bards, despite the initial gut reaction one might have. The Kenku have the +2 DEX that can help the Bard. However, the critical aspect here is that your Mimicry skill is a WIS check the target makes against your Cha. Bards use Cha as their main attribute. As such, putting points into your charisma will let the skillfully deceptive Kenku capitalize on the Bard’s strengths.
Creation – Animate and create objects with your magic. If your DM lets you, you can use these abilities with your Expert Forgery skill to duplicate items that you can pass off as the originals. Plus you give a note of potential to your allies when giving Bardic Inspiration.
Eloquence – Increases the utility of Bardic Inspiration as allies can keep the die when the roll they use it on fails, you can redirect the inspiration to an ally when another successfully uses the die, and you can treat anything 9 and lower on a Persuasion or Deception check as a 10.
Glamour – Give allies a small health buff and a chance to move without provoking attacks of opportunity. The rest of the abilities redirect enemy attacks and let you charm people easily.
Lore – Use your Bardic Inspiration for your own ability check, to subtract from an enemy attack, ability, or damage roll, and get two spells from any class.
Maestro – Guide the battle as if you were the conductor to its symphony. Gain access to a battery of conducting techniques to support your allies and inhibit enemies from range.
Swords – Gain Blade flourish which deals bonus damage and disengages, adds AC next turn, or hits a second target. Combines well with DEX weapons.
Spirits – This will give you access to a battery of spells, called tales, that can heal, hurt, even teleport.
Valor – This simply provides a couple extra uses for Bardic Inspiration, an extra attack, and a bonus action attack when you cast a Bard spell.
Whispers – With the idea of being an infiltrator and spy in mind, this subclass adds extra tools to your arsenal of deception including terrifying your enemies. Plus spend Bardic Inspiration on hit to deal up to 8d6 psychic damage.
The Blood Hunter is a class that Kenku can squeeze a lot of value out of. The DEX and WIS boost to start the game are great for Blood Hunter, WIS because it can be substituted for Int in many spells. The natural stealth and mimicry Kenku have can help a Blood Hunter to stalk their otherworldly prey.
Ghostslayer – A fair choice, doesn’t capitalize on your strengths any more than the base package.
Lycan – This class is alright for the Kenku, if you’re going for an unarmed build then it is much better providing extra damage potential on hit plus extra attacks.
Mutant – Mutant subclass will increase your character’s flexibility in and out of combat. The mutagens you make can be powerful augmentations for whichever situation you find yourself in.
Profane Soul – Diversify your skillset picking a patron, gaining empowerment as you level up, and grab a few Warlock spells (Your WIS comes into play over your Cha).
The Cleric can be a decent pick for the Kenku. You’ll want to be pumping points into WIS and Cha to excel in this class, so this can help you make use of your Mimicry skill. Overall though, the Kenku have better class matches, so I would recommend ruling all those one out before hitting the Cleric class.
Arcana – Get a few Wizard spells as Cleric cantrips.
Blood – Get some extra necrotic damage, puppeteer a creature with blood for a moment. Doesn’t take advantage of the Kenku racial bonuses.
Death – You’re looking at death, draining life, and undeath so necromantic cantrips and spells are available by choosing this subclass.
Forge – Crafting focused, but it does make your Expert Forgery redundant. Why waste your racial ability?
Grave – Many of the spells and skills you get here have use numbers linked to your WIS modifier.
Knowledge – Get bonuses to a few proficiencies and glean knowledge from others surface thoughts and from visions from the past.
Life – Heal friends, deal some damage, later heal yourself when you heal friends. Nothing that the Kenku bring with them improves a Life Cleric.
Light – Deals holy damage and gives disadvantage on attacks against you, but there are better options for you.
Nature – Focus on charming animals to assist you, also gain access to some good druid spells.
Order – Focuses on healing and commanding foe’s obedience else they be smitten.
Peace – The most healing oriented of the Cleric classes.
Tempest – Strong damage and knockback.
Trickery – Mixes well when your Kenku has a stealth build.
Twilight – Provides group darkvision for an hour and AOE buffs.
War – Gets you some added damage potential and protection spells.
Druid can be a good pick for the Kenku as you have the extra WIS and your DEX can help while in Wild Shape.
Dreams – You get healing, a safety sphere while resting, and some teleportation.
Land – Your connection to the land gives you powers depending on where you became a druid. Move through most difficult terrain unimpeded, plus flora and fauna hesitate to attack you.
Moon – Specialize in Wild Shape for stronger beast forms, elemental forms, and magic damage on hit in beast form.
Shepherd – Speak with and summon beasts, plus nature spirits to help your allies.
Spores – Provides good damage options, reanimation, and gaseous form can let you sneak into any place if there’s so much as a crack in a wall or floor.
Stars – Use Wild Shape to take on one of three Starry Forms, special reactions, and Guiding Bolt is a strong spell accessible at level two (120 range and 4d6 damage on hit? Yes please.)..
Wildfire – Gain a wildfire spirit familiar, a lot of damage and some healing, plus a half health self-revive if you hit 0 and dismiss your familiar within 120ft.
Kenku can make decent fighters as there are options for ranged fighters and using finesse weapons. When going with the melee build, Kenku are not as adept at filling this role as you’ll need to put more of your attribute points into STR and CON in order to do well. Going with the DEX build will require coordination with your party as there might not be another suitably durable fighter.
Arcane Archer – Great for a DEX fighter, you gain 8 additional effects for your short or longbow attacks.
Battle Master – Most maneuvers are geared toward melee combat, though you can use DEX as the modifier for saves against your maneuvers.
Cavalier – Mobility, extra reactive combat ability.
Champion – Main strength is Crit on 19 and 20, you do get to add half proficiency bonus to any STR, DEX, and CON checks.
Echo Knight – Perfect for a DEX fighter as your echos, having one health, will be harder to hit and thus increases your damage output and battlefield mobility.
Eldritch Knight – As an Eldritch Knight, you’ll need to put points into INT if you want your spells to be consistent. This can spread your attributes to the point you’re ok at a number of things and not great at anything.
Gunslinger – Your Trick Shots are DEX based plus crit on 19 and 20. Let’s be honest too, who doesn’t love a good blackpowder weapon?
Psi Warrior – As name implies, psychic warrior, enhance your abilities, durability, and do some psychic damage.
Purple Dragon Knight – Generically called Banneret outside Forgotten Realms setting, you rally your allies to continue the fight.
Renegade – Similar to gunslinger, gives you weapon modification instead of maneuvers.
Rune Knight – Really wants a STR heavy character, so you’re better off with another pick.
Samurai – Give yourself advantage on attacks, become a better socializer, and refuse death its victory. For a turn anyway.
Mixing Kenkus’ naturally higher DEX with the Unarmored Defense of Monks already gives you a hard-to-hit character. Having the extra wisdom will help with Ki abilities. Having Acrobatics and Stealth in both skills lists can let you get either all of the Kenku skill options, or four of the six Monk skill options.
Ascendant Dragon – As one may expect, this channels the powers of the dragon. Helps you pass Charisma checks, gives you a breath weapon, and a short flight ability.
Astral Self – This subclass allows you to substitute WIS for STR on your extra attacks, plus advantage on many additional WIS and CHA checks.
Cobalt Soul – Analyze people in combat and conversation to make full advantage of any edge you have.
Drunken Master – Think Jackie Chan, redirecting enemy attacks, dodge at weird angles, and disengage when you use Flurry of Blows!
Four Elements – Gives you access to elemental spells.
Kensei – Train and synchronize your Ki with a choice weapon for access to extra damage, extra AC, and even rerolls on attack rolls.
Long Death – This will make you a very durable combatant, getting hit points when foes die around you, spend Ki points to avoid being reduced to 0 hit points.
Mercy – Learn internal Ki manipulation to heal allies and harm enemies. You’ll eventually get a resurrect.
Open Hand – Master Ki energy to heal yourself, hit enemies extra hard, even hit a person with imperceptible vibrations that you can activate to potentially kill them instantly.
Shadow – See in the dark, shadow step, slip through the dim light, and wait till a foe is distracted to strike.
Sun Soul – If you’ve ever wanted to be a Firebender, now is your chance. Sun Soul gives the monk access to ranged fire damage abilities.
Paladins are combat masters who can inspire, protect, and heal their allies. They will be at home in the thick of combat, swinging their blessed weapons against supernatural foes. With CHA as the main attribute, there is really a limited level of synergy here for the Kenku.
Ancients – Swear your sword to the primeval entities of light and life, to gain protection from spells, death, and age itself.
Conquest – Such paladins are walking manifestations of the crushing strength of conquerors, striking fear into enemies shortly before striking them with weapons.
Crown – Sworn to guard civilization and order, you will be able to buff allies and command enemies into submission.
Devotion – Quite literally the knight in shining armor. No really. You get a shining radiance that protects from evil, charms, and eventually does radiant damage to foes too close to you.
Glory – You exist that tales may be told of you and your brave companions. Inspire them to greater speeds, turn away attacks, and do great feats of daring.
Oathbreaker – Responsibility is overrated; cast your oath aside for command over undead, and dark auras of malevolence.
Open Sea – Geared for an ocean campaign, you can only access some abilities in water and others only affect walking and climbing speed.
Redemption – Rebuke the wicked who smite you, heal every wound you can (even your enemies) and kill as your last resort.
Vengeance – Those who do great evils will be destroyed by your hands, with any means necessary.
Watchers – Defend against extraplanar beings and banish them from the material plane.
The Ranger is a good choice for the Kenku, especially if one takes a ranged or finesse weapon focus. Many skills will utilize the WIS attribute, and the bonuses for a DEX based ranger will multiply your character’s impact both on and off the battlefield. You will guide your party through the wilderness with ease, concealing yourself from all but the most diligent and perceptive pursuers.
Beast Master – Not a bad choice, the animal companion is great. This subclass just underutilizes the Kenku advantages.
Drakewarden – Like Beast Master, but with a dragon, and you’ll get some bonuses and spells too.
Fey Wanderer – Potentially Epic, you gain extra psychic damage on hit, gain a bonus to all CHA checks equal to your WIS modifier which makes your mimicry skill even better. Plus Misty Step later on!
Gloom Stalker – Amps you infiltration to 11 as you become invisible to darkvision, and gain several extra attack skills.
Horizon Walker – Gain interplanar skills to defend the material plane against intrusion.You’ll get a phase walk, blink strike, among other good skills.
Hunter – Broaden your preferred enemies to an entire type and get specialized skills to defeat your enemies.
Monster Slayer – Learn to intuit an enemy’s weaknesses and strengths instantly, and focus all your power on bringing that single target low.
Swarmkeeper – Your friends in nature will collectively come to your aid, attacking enemies and moving you about the battlefield.
Kenku were born to be Rogues. Sneaking around, forging and copying documents, imitating people’s voices, and the strength they get from their racial attribute bonuses of +2 DEX and +1 WIS should come as no surprise to you. If you choose a melee fighter just remember to get a weapon with Finesse to really maximize the utility of your high DEX score.
Arcane Trickster – You gain access to mage spells,but the most impactful skill you’ll get comes via Mage Hand. Your Mage Hand lets you pick locks and disarm traps from range and steal from/plant things on people from range.
Assassin – Perhaps surprisingly, Assassin isn’t great for Kenku primarily because they already have skills that approximate the abilities that this subclass provides.
Inquisitive – Gives you bonuses to several investigative WIS checks and attack rolls.
Mastermind – Later levels give you additional advantages, but until level 9 all you get that you don’t already have is to use help as a bonus action.
Phantom – Spirits of the dead assist you. Use their skills, knowledge, and even become a phantasm yourself.
Scout – You’ll be slippery and deadly in combat, and able to survive in nearly any environment.
Soulknife – Psionic powers are flexible and powerful. If you were doing clandestine activity, this would pair perfectly.
Swashbuckler – Mobile, creating advantage and disadvantage in battle with elegance.
Thief – This subclass enhances your rogue skills until you epitomize the fundamentals of the Rogue.
Being reliant on CHA, and having no use for DEX or WIS, the only reason this is not lower is the fact that Kenku do have a CHA based skill. They can probably make fine Sorcerers, but others will naturally excel here and you’ll end up with many underutilized attributes.
Aberrant Mind – Provide psychic powers like telepathy and allow you to cast without somatic or verbal elements, plus you get a level 17 teleport that deals AOE where you originated.
Clockwork Soul – Negate advantage rolls against you, protect yourself, and potentially heal all your allies.
Divine Soul – Get access to Cleric spells.
Draconic Bloodline – AC13+Dex modifier while not armored at level 3 is a really good augmentation the Kenku DEX bonus
Rune Child – Reclaim expended power from spent sorcery points for special spells.
Shadow Sorcery – get extra damage resistances, a hellhound for harassment, and a shadowstep ability.
Storm Sorcery – A utility class, you’re able to control wind and rain, and give flight to allies at later levels.
Wild Magic – Try your luck when you cast a spell and spin the wheel of magical side effects!
Warlock isn’t an ideal pick for Kenku. While there is a limited synergy with the Mimicry skill, it wastes just about all your other racial features. Most likely you’ll find your Attributes spread too widely to really be good at anything.
Archfey – Your patron gives you access to teleportation as well as illusions to confuse your enemies, which works well for infiltration.
Celestial – Learn healing spells, deal radiant damage, maybe resist death a time or two.
Fathomless – Release the Kraken. Or at least the Kraken’s tentacles
Fiend – Your classic warlock, making pacts with devils and demons, fire spells, throwing people through the nine hells. You know, just an average day at the office.
Genie – Make a pact with one of four types of genies, get spells specific to that type’s element, deal some extra damage on hit, and chill out in a lamp once in a while.
Great Old One – Gain telepathy from primordial gods like Cthulhu and make an unconscious humanoid your thrall.
Hexblade – Allows you to become a melee caster, but also renders your extra dexterity redundant since you can later use your Cha instead of Str or Dex on attacks.
Undying – You’ll learn to leech life from enemies you damage and become more durable, with the ability to cheat death once in a while.
You won’t have a natural aptitude for the Wizard class as a Kenku. There will be a few subclasses that make good choices if you decide to go this route.
Abjuration – Protective and anti-magic spellcaster, you can protect allies from a lot of damage when you get the positioning down.
Artificer – Create scrolls, infuse weapons, craft arms and ammunition. Can make use of your expert forgery skill.
Bladesinging – This allows you to gain extra AC while wearing light armor and enhance your melee skills in numerous ways. INT is still important for many of these abilities.
Chronurgist – Manipulate outcomes of multiple types of dice rolls to ensure the outcome is beneficial to you.
Conjuration – Magically manifest objects and creatures into physical existence.
Divination – You learn to see and sometimes alter the future. You can also magically alter your perception to have darkvision, see into the Ethereal plane, or invisible things.
Enchantment – Charm your way through life to avoid attacks, and all the other wonderful non-combat applications. Later make your targets forget they were even charmed at all!
Evocation – Long range spellcaster, lets you shape and overclock your spells.
Graviturgist – Altering the density of enemies, moving them around, and causing them to take extra damage from ally attacks are great if you’re going to be a supporting spellcaster or a damage dealing one.
Illusion – Can help in some instances avoid damage and provide out of combat utility,
Necromancy – Provides some extra staying power and lets you summon minions to keep foes off you.
Order of Scribes – Spells are valuable and scribes take this literally. They are able to cast spells from a conjured companion, sacrifice spells to avoid damage, and write scrolls in a flash to cast extra spells.
Transmutation – Like old school alchemists, you can change materials into other types of material of similar weight and value. You can store some of this to expend on a larger effect later.
War Magic – Gives you protections in the heat of battle.
Racial Feats/Best Feats
Dungeon Delver – This increases your perceptive abilities to be aware of hidden doors and traps. If you plan on doing any sneaky stuff, this is a must take as you also get advantage on saving throws against traps.
Lucky – Can get you out of many tough binds or give that little extra push to finish off a challenge. You can reroll d20 on attack, ability check, or saving throw rolls. Also lets you force an enemy to reroll for a lower attack, ability check, or saving throw.
Observant – Get an extra INT or WIS, +5 to passive WIS and INT scores, most importantly learn to read lips if you can see a creature’s mouth while they are speaking a language you can understand.
Sharpshooter – If you choose a ranged martial build, sharpshooter is a must-take. This means you don’t have disadvantage on any of your ranged weapons using them at long range. More importantly in the author’s opinion, is that your shots ignore half and 3/4 cover. This removes much of your disadvantage when fighting entrenched foes, during ambushes, and against fellow long-range combatants.
Skulker – Hide when lightly obscured, see perfectly in dim light, and most importantly, your position isn’t revealed when you miss a ranged attack while hidden.