Kenkus are a race of humanoid avians in Dungeons & Dragons with an extremely long history; they first appeared way back in the Fiend Folio in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition! Possibly based on the Tengu of Japanese mythology, they have taken many different forms over different editions.
The original Kenku, as said above, first appeared in the Fiend Folio. Here, they appear as humanoid hawks, having the basic frame of a human, but with bird-like feet, clawed hands, hawk wings sprouting from their backs, feathers covering their skin, and the heads of hawks. They are mischievous, magical beings who have many innate abilities that they develop as they age; alongside random spell-like abilities, they develop the ability to shape-change into a human form, turn invisible, and call lightning. They are mischievous tricksters who love to mess with people, both for fun and for profit; deception, robbery and kidnapping are their favorite ways of funding themselves.
They were updated to 2nd edition in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two, and subsequently reprinted in the Monstrous Manual; they were basically identical to their Fiend Folio depiction, but more cut-down. It was also mentioned that some humanoids kidnap kenku hatchlings and bring them up as slaves.
Third edition is when kenku morphed into their modern day form, by which they are recognized today. They first appeared in the 3rd Monster Manual, and then received an "Ecology of the Kenku" article in Dragon Magazine #329, with a kenku-focused adventure appearing in Dungeon Magazine #120.
3e Kenkus are flightless, wingless, humanoid ravens about the size of halflings, known for their secretive natures and their selfishness. They flock to urban environments where they form small, secretive communes, which often double as thieves guilds; robbery, mugging, assassination and blackmail are the bread-and-butter of the kenku flock, such as it is. Ironically, this cuthroat environment actually builds a very strong sense of loyalty in kenku; the constant competition for survival makes it integral to find allies who you can trust to stand by you.
In their Ecology article, it's said that kenkus began their existence as giant ravens who fell afoul of a plague, and took to stealing from humanoid races, for which they were hunted almost to extinction. In desperation, they prayed to the Demon Prince Pazuzu to save them, and he agreed to help them in exchange for their loyalty. But the kenku were lazy, feckless and untrustworthy, and they broke their promise to worship and revere him, for which the angry Demon Prince of the Skies stole their ability to fly, transforming them into their current form. These kenku have struggled to survive as urban scavengers ever since.
Unlike their AD&D counterparts, kenku have no magical abilities, beyond a near-supernatural knack for vocal mimickry; they can mimic virtually any sound they have heard.
Kenku PC stats appeared in the MM3 alongside their monster stats:
- +2 Dexterity, -2 Strength
- Base speed 30 feet
- Great Ally (Ex): Kenkus work exceptionally well with their allies. When successfully aided on a skill check or attack roll by an ally, or when aiding another, a kenku applies or gains a +3 bonus on its check or attack roll (instead of the normal +2 bonus). Furthermore, a kenku gains a +4 bonus on attack rolls against an opponent flanked by an ally (instead of the normal +2 bonus).
—Mimicry (Ex): A kenku can perfectly mimic familiar sounds, voices, and accents. This ability does not enable the kenku to speak languages it can’t normally speak. To duplicate a specific individual’s voice, a kenku makes a Bluff check; a listener familiar with the voice being imitated must succeed on an opposed Sense Motive check to discern that the voice isn’t genuine.
Kenku first made a surprise appearance as a PC race in the back of the 1st Monster Manual for 4th edition, with the following stats:
- Average Height: 5'0" to 5'6"
- Average Weight: 110 to 150 lb.
- Ability Score Bonuses: +2 to DEX and CHA
- Size: Medium
- Vision: Low-Light
- Skill Bonuses: +2 Bluff, +2 Stealth
- Flock Effect: You gain a +3 bonus to attack rolls against a creature you are flanking instead of the normal +2 bonus, and you grant a +3 bonus to attack rolls or skill checks when aiding another instead of the normal +2 bonus.
- Mimicry: You can mimic sounds and voices. A successful Insight check opposed by your Bluff check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked.
Monster stats for Kenku appeared in the 2nd Monster Manual, in the form of the Ruffian (level 3 minion skirmisher), Warrior (level 3 skirmisher), Ringleader (level 4 soldier/leader), Sneak (level 4 lurker), Wing Mage (level 5 artillery) and Assassin (level 5 elite skirmisher).
Finally, an article called "Winning Races: Kenku" appeared in Dragon Magazine #411. This article clarifies that the Nentir Vale kenku have much the same backstory as their 3e counterparts, just tweaked for the World Axis cosmology; here, they are described as being creations of the Raven Queen who got greedy and offered to betray her secrets to Pazuzu, for which they were afflicted by a divine curse and changed to their current wretched state. Their ability score bonuses changed to +2 Charisma/+2 Dexterity or Intelligence, and they gained a racial encounter power; Flock Tactics, which lets you, as a minor action, either gain combat advantage against an enemy adjacent to one ally until the start of your next turn, or use the aid another/aid attack action to grant a +3 bonus.
They also gained a choice of five heroic tier racial utility powers; Beak Mask (craft an illusion disguise of being some other humanoid 1/day) or Rally the Flock (1/encounter, as a minor action, all non-deafened allies within close burst 3 can shift 2 squares toward you) at level 2, Shadow Feathers (gain total concealment for a turn 1/encounter) or Shadow in the Flock (when adjacent to an ally, you can shift up to your speed, then make a hide check to become hidden from non-adjacent enemies if you end your move adjacent to another ally, 1/encounter) at level 6, and Ancestral Wings (gain Fly speed equal to your speed until the encounter's end, altitude limit 4, 1/day) at level 10.
In 5th edition, kenku finally received a promotion and appeared in the very first monster manual, and were updated to a PC race in Volo's Guide to Monsters. Here, they gained a controversial new lore tweak; they lost the ability to communicate, imagine or innovate entirely, forcing them to literally imitate others to survive, pilfering or plagiarizing things that others have made and having to mimic sounds and words they have heard in order to verbally communicate. Sort of like Bumblebee in Michael Bay's Transformers movies, or Jacket as presented in Payday 2.
- Average Height: 4'6" to 5'10"
- Average Weight: 52 to 148 lb.
- Ability Score Bonuses: +2 to DEX, +1 to WIS
- Size: Medium
- Speed:30 ft.
- Expert Forgery: They can copy-paste everything. And they get advantage on the roll.
- Kenku Training: Proficiency in two of Acrobatics, Deception, Stealth and Sleight of Hand.
- Mimicry: You can faultlessly recreate (but not modify) sounds, words, and voices you have heard before, as though you were a tape recorder. A successful Insight check opposed by your Deception check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked. This is also the only way for them to speak.
|Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Races|
|Player's Handbook 1:|| Dragonborn - Dwarf - Eladrin - Elf |
Half-Elf - Halfling - Human - Tiefling
|Player's Handbook 2:||Deva - Gnome - Goliath - Half-Orc - Shifter|
|Player's Handbook 3:||Githzerai - Minotaur - Shardmind - Wilden|
|Monster Manual 1:|| Bugbear - Doppelganger - Githyanki |
Goblin - Hobgoblin - Kobold - Orc
|Monster Manual 2:||Bullywug - Duergar - Kenku|
|Dragon Magazine:||Gnoll - Shadar-kai|
|Heroes of Shadow:||Revenant - Shade - Vryloka|
|Heroes of the Feywild||Hamadryad - Pixie - Satyr|
|Eberron's Player's Guide:||Changeling - Kalashtar - Warforged|
|The Manual of the Planes:||Bladeling|
|Dark Sun Campaign Setting:||Mul - Thri-kreen|
|Forgotten Realms Player's Guide:||Drow - Genasi|
|The Races of Pathfinder|
|Player's Handbook:||Dwarf - Elf - Gnome - Half-Elf - Half-Orc - Halfling - Human|
| Aasimar - Catfolk - Changeling - Dhampir - Duergar |
Drow - Fetchling - Gillman - Goblin - Grippli - Hobgoblin
Ifrit - Kitsune - Kobold - Merfolk - Nagaji - Orc - Oread
Ratfolk - Samsaran - Strix - Suli - Svirfneblin - Sylph
Tengu - Tiefling - Undine - Vanara - Vishkanya - Wayang
|Bestiaries:|| Android - Astomoi - Caligni - Deep One Hybrid - Gathlain |
Gnoll - Kasatha - Munavri - Naiad - Orang-Pendak
Reptoid - Rougarou - Shabti - Trox - Yaddithian
|Adventure Paths:||Being of Ib - Kuru|
|Inner Sea Races:|| Ghoran - Monkey Goblin - Lashunta - Skinwalker |
Syrinx - Triaxian - Wyrwood - Wyvaran
|Ultimate Wilderness:||Vine Leshy|
|Blood of the Sea:||Adaro - Cecaelia - Grindylow - Locathah - Sahuagin - Triton|
|Planar Adventures:||Aphorite - Duskwalker - Ganzi|