Kenku (pronounced: /kɛŋˈkuː/ keng-KOO or: /ˈkɛŋkuː/ KENK-oo) were a race of flightless avian humanoids. They tended to be selfish and secretive in nature and were often engaged in plots to acquire wealth and power. They operated in small gangs and often lived in large human cities, especially in southern Faerûn, where they worked as spies, assassins, or thieves.
Although they evolved from avians, kenku had no wings or capacity for flight. This is due to their former master finding out of their greed. Instead, they had arms in place of wings and bird-like talons for hands and feet. They retained bird-like features, however, with black and beady eyes and a long dark-hued beak. Head and torso were covered with soft feathers, a dark russet-brown color, while their scrawny limbs were bare and scaled like a bird's. They most resembled ravens.
Kenku tended to be slightly smaller than the average human, standing at around 5 feet (1.5 meters). Because they had partially hollow bones, they were lighter than most creatures their height, averaging only 75 pounds (34 kilograms). They were therefore not as strong, but they were more agile and dexterous.
They typically wore nondescript brown robes, under which they concealed tools and weaponry.
Kenku were by habit secretive, self-seeking, and cunning creatures. They tended to adopt neutral or unaligned views and behaviors; the majority were evil, but true neutral and good kenku could be found among them. They were opportunistic and unscrupulous, not stopping at illegal or immoral acts.
A kenku fought well alongside allies, and not just with others of its kind. They were most dangerous when aided or when flanking a foe with an ally. Kenku sneaks and assassins backstabbed their victims this way.
Kenku often used saps, short swords, or shortbows in combat, others wielded clubs, daggers, slings, and even spiked chains. But even when disarmed, they would also slash opponents with their claws. Kenku typically wore leather armor, though a warrior might choose a chain shirt or buckler.
Kenku had an innate skill in the arts of stealth.
Kenku lived in close-knit gangs, family groups, or clans, commonly called "flocks". These flocks were distrusting of outsiders, even of other kenku. They established aeries or nests, usually hidden and often near large cities or at least in civilized lands. Kenku had their own language, but typically spoke Common.
After hatching from their eggs, kenku remained in their home-nests with their families. Once they reached adulthood at age nine, they left their nests forever. Unwilling to travel alone, most soon banded together with other young adult kenku of similar habits for mutual protection and profit, forming new flocks. A few made their way on their own or formed partnerships with other creatures who needed their services.
These kenku gangs made their homes in the cities, where they loitered in dark alleys or roamed the streets together. Thanks to their skills and habits and lack of scruples, they flourished in the criminal underbelly, hatching schemes to get rich and strong. They could operate all kinds of illicit enterprises, but preferred confidence tricks and scheming. Violence was rarely their first choice. They hoarded their stolen, shiny gold.
Kenku, in gangs or alone, were usually hired as thieves or thugs, even as assassins and spies.
Typical kenku ruffians were unsophisticated warriors who depended on numbers to overwhelm a foe. A true kenku warrior cultivated a martial art in which they flitted here and there, apparently at random, but striking quickly as they did. They also made brutal attacks against those they had the advantage over.
Serving as assassins and spies, kenku sneaks were often rogues who especially depended on stealth and cooperation, and on acting first. Some could disappear amongst their fellows, before they would resurface and strike again. Some dedicated themselves to the path of assassin.
Leading them on heists and raids, the ringleader of a kenku gang was a capable brawler who could urge his kind to press an attack, to move and scatter, or flee when a fight went against them.
Kenku had a magical tradition employing air magic and glowing feathers of force to hinder and harm. Unlike other kenku, they could even fly for short time, with their arts. They preferred the safety of height. It was rare to spot a kenku cleric, but the few among them usually follows gods of secrecy.
With the devastation and chaos wrought by the Spellplague after 1385 DR, the Beastlands spread further across the southeast. The kenku took advantage, gaining notoriety and integrating themselves in every monster-ruled city in the Beastlands, as well as in Estagund and Durpar, by the late 15th century.
In the 14th century DR, kenku could be found lurking in cities throughout southern Faerûn. A large but loosely connected guild of kenku thieves and assassins was based in Zazesspur, Tethyr, and was called the Daggertalons. Kenku also inhabited Estagund and Veldorn in the Shining Lands of the southeast.[note 3]
By 1479 DR, kenku were well-established and populous in the southeast. They were particularly prominent in the cities of the Beastlands, and Estagund. In Tirumala, both kenku slaves and a kenku spy network served the rakshasa rulers. In neighboring Durpar, they could be found in Assur, Vaelan, and other locales still held by humans, and made up a significant proportion of the population. Kenku and halfling gangs fought for control of the streets of Vaelan.
The kenku even established their own domain in the so-called Blackfeather Barrens, the badlands between the monster-ruled realms of the Beastlands. From their hidden rookery, Blackfeather, it was rumored they commanded a secret organization of kenku loyal solely to their own kind, not to the array of different causes kenku served in the surrounding cities. More obviously, those of Blackfeather attacked all trespassers without mercy, making it a place to be feared by all.
- The kenku appears to be loosely based on the tengu of Japanese legend. That is, Oriental Adventures (3rd edition) states that the tengu is also known as a "kenku".
- Two different versions of the kenku have been presented throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons. A winged kenku appeared in Fiend Folio (1st edition) and Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (2nd edition). However, this is a very different creature from the kenku presented in Monster Manual III (v.3.5) and Monster Manual 2 (4th edition). It is therefore assumed that these are two distinct types of creature. This article presents the wingless kenku of later editions.
- Monster Manual III page 87 and Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide page 96 state that the wingless kenku of eastern Faerûn hailed from Kara-Tur, where the tengu was originally presented and culturally fitting, suggesting that the kenku descended from the tengu. However, it is briefly mentioned in Serpent Kingdoms that kenku are creations or descendants of the aearee. It's unknown how this interacts with the other origins of the kenku.
- Eric Cagle (March 2005). “The Ecology of the Kenku”. In Erik Mona ed. Dragon #329 (Paizo Publishing, LLC), pp. 68–72.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the following links do not necessarily represent the views of the editors of this wiki, nor does any lore presented necessarily adhere to established canon.
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