Kenku 5e Guide

Published on March 17, 2021

What is this guide?

This guide is meant to give you an idea of whether or not the Kenku will be right for your character build.

The color code below has been implemented to help you identify, at a glance, how good that option will be for your Kenku. This color coding isn’t a hard and fast rule; there are plenty of sub-optimized options out there that will be viable to your party and will be fun to play.

  • Black is a trait shared by many races and or will not impact the effectiveness of your character build
  • Red isn’t going to contribute to the effectiveness of your character build at all
  • Orange is an OK option
  • Green is a good option
  • Blue is a great option, you should strongly consider this option for your character
  • Sky Blue is an amazing option. If you do not take this option your character would not be optimized

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything Update

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything has added the "Customizing Your Origin" option that may affect the ability score increases, languages, and proficiencies in this guide. To read more about this, visit our D&D Race Guide.

What are Kenku?

Kenku are a cursed race of avian humanoids. The curse, brought on by their betrayal of their otherworldly master, has caused them to lose their ability to fly (a relief for any DM) as well as the ability to speak without using their Mimicry trait. Hoping to fly again one day, many Kenku have set out on adventures of their own. Masters of stealth and imitation, Kenku excel at infiltration and criminal activities.

Kenku are a playable character race found in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Kenku Traits

Ability Score Increase: +2 DEX and  +1 WIS is a good combination for several classes.

Size: Medium is the typical size of most races, and is neither good nor bad.

Speed: Kenku have a standard walking speed of 30 feet.

Expert Forgery: This trait is pretty underwhelming. You only get advantage on attempts to create duplicates and forgeries, instead of succeeding automatically. Still, if you need some money, you could always make some copies of valuable items and try to sell them. Remember that you still need to have the appropriate tool on hand for the job (i.e. to attempt a forgery, you need a Forgery Kit).

Kenku Training: Two free skills is fantastic, especially because the skills all work perfectly with a sneaky character in mind. Three out of the four available skills are DEX skills, making them ideal options given the Kenku’s +2 DEX bonus.

Mimicry: Mimicry is an extraordinarily unique racial trait and is very difficult to quantify. Kenku can only speak by replicating sounds that they have heard, which could make for interesting roleplay. In the worst case, Mimicry could lead to a huge annoyance at your table. Depending on how you decide to approach this trait with your DM, Mimicry could also be a valuable asset to your party. Mimicking voices can be useful, but Mimicry can also be used to imitate the sound of a door slamming shut or the snarl of a vicious beast. If you want to be sneaky or do some infiltration, being creative when it comes to Mimicry could take you quite far.

Languages: Kenku understand Common and Auran, but the catch with this race is that they can only speak using the Mimicry trait.

Which Classes Work With Kenku?

DEX is a very common ability score bonus, but pairs very nicely with the Kenku’s traits to create a powerful stealth package. DEX combined with WIS works well, even for those characters that do not rely on WIS to help with the common occurrence of WIS saving throws. Any character that wants focus on DEX and would benefit from being sneaky is happy to play as a Kenku.

Artificer: Artificers need INT to be effective.

Barbarian: Barbarians need STR to be effective.

Bard: Bards really want that CHA boost for their spells, although the DEX would help for a melee Bard build. Mimicry relies on CHA, so the fact that Bards focus on CHA would make it that much more effective.

Cleric: DEX based Clerics can be quite strong, and the WIS bonus here is perfect for spellcasting. To get those most out of a Kenku Cleric, choose one of the Domains that doesn’t care about heavy armor, such as the Trickery Domain or the Light Domain.

Druid: Druids want as much WIS as possible, but getting only a +1 bonus is serviceable. DEX is useful to increase survivability. Beyond that, there isn’t much excitement to be had for a Kenku Druid.

Fighter: DEX is just as viable for Fighters as STR, so you won’t lose anything by choosing the Kenku. The Kenku’s unique racial traits will add some spice to some of the less mechanically interesting subclasses. All in all, Kenku’s make solid stealthy Fighters.

Monk: Both ability score bonuses are right in the Monk’s wheelhouse, and the racial traits just add a nice stealth spin to the whole class. On top of that, a mostly silent monk seems like some pretty cool flavor.

Paladin: Paladins can be quite good when focused on DEX, although the WIS is largely wasted and would rather be seen in either CON or CHA.

Ranger: Like the Monk, DEX and WIS are exactly what the Ranger is looking for. With the Kenku’s racial traits, the Ranger can close the gap between themselves and stealthy Rogues.

Rogue: Rogues are the archetypical sneaky class, and Kenku’s excel at being sneaky. Is there such thing as too many stealth/infiltration options?

Sorcerer: Sorcerers need CHA to be effective.

Warlock: Warlocks need CHA to be effective.

Wizard: Wizards need INT to be effective.

Roland Drews

Roland Drews is a content creator and editor at Arcane Eye. When he isn't watching basketball or noodling on his guitar, you can find Roland reading, writing, or playing D&D. He currently lives in Bonn, Germany with his girlfriend Jess.