Kenku were a race of winged avian humanoids.[1]

Description[edit | edit source]

The kenku had a human-like frame, standing 5–7 feet (1.5–2.1 meters) tall on bird-like legs, with arms ending in claws and bearing the head of a hawk with bright yellow eyes. They were covered all over with brown feathers, with white underfeathers and facial markings. They had a pair of wings, which, when folded over their backs, might be mistaken for a backpack or bundle. They wore local human attire.[1]

Powers[edit | edit source]

In addition to being natural thieves and warriors, kenku were masters of disguise. Even with their hawk-like heads, they could pass among humans half the time, albeit with unusually large noses.[1]

Elder and experienced kenku acquired increasing arcane powers. First, they learned one basic spell, often magic missile, and once a month they could shape change and keep a shape for up to seven days. Later, they mastered another basic spell, typically shocking grasp, and could turn invisible at will for as long as they wished. Finally, the most experienced kenku, leaders among their kind, learned a somewhat greater spell like mirror image and web, and could cast call lightning. Still more powerful kenku were rumored to exist.[1]

Personality[edit | edit source]

The kenku were secretive by nature, and though not evil or good, they preferred to annoy, hinder, and inconvenience both the human and demihuman races. They were of average human intellect.[1]

Combat[edit | edit source]

In battle, kenku favored the quarterstaff and the scimitar, but could fight with their beak and claws if unarmed. On foot, they used their hand claws; on the wing, they used their foot claws. They do not usually kill their enemy, unless essential to preserve their own lives.[1]

Society[edit | edit source]

Kenku would not speak of their society, but nor did they appear to lie about it. Their society thus remained a mystery to outsiders. It appeared to be organized into clans, led by elder and more experienced kenku, those with greater innate magical powers.[1]

They reproduced as large birds did, with the females laying clutches of two to four eggs that hatched after a period of two months. Hatchlings were helpless and featherless, but grew rapidly, reaching young adulthood and a full coat of feathers in six to eight months. At this point, they began to learn their disguise, thieving, and battle skills. Kenku had had an omnivorous diet and could be active day and night.[1]

Notably, kenku did not speak, and what squawks they made were simply gibberish. Instead, they communicated with each other through telepathy, and were talented at the use of sign language, symbols, and miming to communicate with other species.[1]

Seemingly, kenku used their powers and skills to just be nuisances to both the human and demihuman races. When encountered, they at first appeared amiable, helpful, and generous, but this soon turned out to be anything but. If they offered advice (through signals and such), then it was misleading or false, and could even lead the unwitting victim into difficulty or danger. What gifts or treasure they gave freely proved to be forgeries that disintegrated in less than a day. Kenku had a little more than one in twenty likelihood of ever actually being helpful. Kenku engaged in more elaborated scams than this, however. The young were reckless and outrageous in their schemes, such as posing as gods to steal the offerings of worshipers. Older kenku had more cunning and restraint, usually engaging in kidnapping the rich for ransom.[1]

In turn, wealthy beings prized kenku as servants for some reason, but preferred to raise them from the egg to ensure obedience. A kenku egg sold for around 250 gold pieces and hatchlings for 300 to 500 gold pieces. This was slavery, however, and free kenku would work in secret to liberate their captive kin, and in turn kidnap the slave trader or owner. Any kenku slain in the process would be avenged.[1]

Quorlinn was worshiped by the kenku as a patron and creator deity. His priests and shamans were the most deceitful of kenku kind; they worked as spies, masterminded kidnapping operations, and set up traps and ambushes, but also worked to rescue kenku slaves.[3]

History[edit | edit source]

A number of obscure myths told of the minor god Quorlinn, the result of a failed experiment in creation by a potent sky god. Through deceit and theft, Quorlinn proved his worth to his creator, who rewarded him with a race created in his own image, the kenku. Unfortunately, Quorlinn didn't want the responsibility, and taught the kenku the arts of disguise, theft, and magic, so they could look after themselves.[3]

Kenkus swoop on Onyx, Kyriani, Parwyyd, and Dunstanny.

A number of flying kenkus, alongside gargoyles, were attendants to the one who waits in the Nine Hells. In the Year of the Prince, 1357 DR, when the Great Door appeared in the Hells, the gargoyles and kenkus flew through ahead of their master.[4] The kenkus emerged first in a pit outside Waterdeep, and attacked Kyriani Agrivar, Onyx the Invincible, Parwyyd Hanifar, and Dunstanny; Onyx kept them occupied while the other dealt with the Door. One hurled a lightning spell at him. While Kyriani was separated into Cybriana and Kilili, Kilili flew amongst the kenkus.[5] The exit of the Door was then redirected to the skies over Waterdeep, and the kenkus and gargoyles were met in battle by Vajra Valmeyjar and Timoth Eyesbright, before the City Guard and Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun arrived to defend the city. Later, when the exit of the gate was restored to its original location, the same flying creatures assaulted Cybriana, Onyx, Parwyyd Hanifar, and Dunstanny again, before they ended the threat of the Great Door and the one who waits.[4]

A unit of kenkus served in the Mindulgulph Mercenary Company based in Priapurl in the early 1360s DR.[6]

Kenku lands[edit | edit source]

Kenku could be found in any land, though such was their secrecy, they could live among human- and demihuman-kind without them ever knowing they were there.[1] The few kenku lairs that had been discovered were mostly small, subterranean chambers or cave complexes. Larger caverns with large kenku communities were theorized.[1]

Notable Kenku[edit | edit source]

Vonar, an old kenku with an injured wing.

The old kenku Vonar was a friend of Drizzt Do'Urden who hunted the drow of Menzoberranzan when they arrived in Icewind Dale.[7]

A kenku described as mischievous once killed a caravan merchant of Calimshan and took from him the sword Adjatha, the Drinker. The kenku was eventually slain himself, and the Drinker changed hands as it always did.[8][9]

A kenku named Reeatlann had contact with the Key of Faith in 1278 DR, and reported on its bizarre power to duplicate bread and cheese.[10]

Appendix[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

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 wingless kenku appeared in Monster Manual III (v.3.5) and Monster Manual 2 (4th edition). However, this is a very different creature from the winged kenku originally presented in Fiend Folio (1st edition) and Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (2nd edition). It is therefore assumed that these are two distinct types of creature. This article presents the winged kenku of earlier editions.

Monster Manual III page 87 and Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide page 96 state that the wingless kenkus hailed from Kara-Tur, where the tengu was originally presented and culturally fitting, suggesting that the kenku descended from the tengu.

Appearances[edit | edit source]

Video games

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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