Shout out to all my fabulous nerds, especially those of us who enjoy the unprecedented masterpiece that is Dungeons and Dragons! I’ve been playing D&D on and off since college, but I’ve been in a steady campaign since 2009 or so. Nothing beats an evening of good folks and collaborative storytelling!
Recently, my Dungeon Master (who just happens to be my husband too!) has led our party to a very distinctive settlement — the village of Eagle Scream, deep in the jungles of the Southlands. This settlement is inhabited by the mysterious Kenku, a humanoid/avian race. The Kenku have been in the game world for awhile, but were first introduced as playable characters in Volo’s Guide to Monsters (5e).
My beloved DM mentioned that he had had a lot of trouble finding much online about the Kenku culture. If you click here and here you can read about the basics of the race, such as the bonuses and abilities. There’s plenty of information about Kenku as they try to survive among others in cities, or as they wander, homeless, through the land. But there is very little about what an all-Kenku settlement would be like. Or how this particular population of Kenku may have broken their curse!
So, without any other formalities, here are some of the details my DM, our player Chealsey (who is actually playing a Kenku character) and I came up with for a stable Kenku settlement. Most of this is stuff I just played around with in my head today, mixed in with a lot of the stuff my husband and Chealsey came up with. Since I’m playing in the campaign right now, I may not have discovered all the secrets and nuances of the Eagle Scream my husband created. I’m just running with what they already have very cleverly presented in the game!
Many of the Kenku in the settlement have gone through a trial or challenge to win back their ability to craft speech and get back some of their creativity. In our campaign, our quest party decided to accompany our friend Birdy (yes, that is what we call her) to try and win back her voice. We have been sent on an epic dungeon crawl through an ancient temple where we our worthiness is being judged. I can’t get into that now — that might be the subject of another post, but my DM is totally rocking it with the puzzles and traps! The dungeon is in the temple of Garuda, king of birds.
Eagle Scream is a perched village constructed in the treetops of a massive, ancient forest. They have rope-and-pulley elevator systems, wooden walkways, rope bridges, ladders, and netting to navigate the different dwellings. Houses are typically wooden huts or lean-tos, with some tent-like structures made of their signature woven cloth. Some bigger structures are carved into the living trees, or the trees have grown around them over the centuries. The settlement is concealed from the ground by the leaves, as well as a optical illusion. The Kenku here make a special cloth that is dull russet on one side and silvery on the other. This is draped in strategic places all around the settlement. When it blows in the wind and reflects with the sunlight, it appears from the ground that there are silverly, ghostly spirits flying through the trees. Several whistle contraptions carved of wood and bone are strategically placed so that the wind blows through them, creating haunting, moaning sounds to add to the affect. Space is at a premium here, so gathering places are used for multiple things. For example, a large platform might be a market place by day, and a bar/hangout by night.
The Kenku settlement operates like many medieval towns, with artisans, merchants, etc. There is more trading than using currency, though they do use coins as well. Mimicry potions are extremely cheap here, like 25 gp or less, so this is a good place to stock up! The Kenku are master weavers, and are able to replicate any kind of cloth or tapestry design after studying it for a short time. As this particular settlement has become more creative again, one might observe weavers incorporating multiple styles together in a kind of collage, creating a one-of-a-kind bolt of cloth or tapestry. They are also very clever at crafting wicker, and use it to make armor, furniture, baskets, fishing equipment, parts of buildings, etc. This settlement also has several individuals actively working on flight technology and magic. Many have a harness with expandable canvas wings that allow them to glide. Think hang-glider. These kenku also produce some of the finest honey in the region, and the royal jelly from this honey gives players +1 to hit and +1 to damage for an hour after consuming it. Kenku also adore shiny things. The baubles don’t have to be worth much, as long as they are shiny! Many decorate their homes and themselves with sparkly stuff. Gems make for GREAT trading.
It’s rare for so many Kenku to be living in one place. This settlement encompasses multiple flocks, which are affiliated by bloodline, though intermingling does happen. Each flock has a Matriarch, the eldest female of the bloodline. When decisions must be made that affect the entire settlement, the Matriarchs gather to discuss and give their wisdom. The day-to-day running of the settlement, however, is shouldered by elected officials from each house that work together for the good of the group. Political intrigue does occur, but most in this place are more concerned with flight, or breaking their curse, as opposed to infighting or jockeying for position. There are temples here, with clerics, a mage guild, and a fighter’s guild. Defying the “birds mate for life” stereotype, this society does not subscribe to monogamous marriage-like unions. Though some mates stay together for many years, it is more fruitful for everyone to have multiple partners. Many hatchlings aren’t sure who their fathers are, and the mothers purposely do not confirm. That way, the males of the settlement believe that any child could be theirs, and therefore want to teach and protect it.
This settlement has cast aside the old gods that cursed them. In their new pantheon, there are tales of how these new gods rose up and cast out the gods that cursed the Kenku. This is evidenced by Garuda’s ability to reverse the curse. There are other gods that have stepped up to replace the old gods, much like Greek Mythology. You can set whatever alignment you like to these, and there are more available on other sites.
Amalthea, Queen of Heaven — Garuda’s wife, the Great Goddess. Sacred to women, protector of children, Goddess of Love, Egg-Laying, Nesting Craft, and Fertility, she of the White Wings.
Zadok — God of Storms — controls the weather. Can be extremely benevolent, or violently angry and need to be placated. Appears as a Kenku with wings made of stormclouds, threaded with lightning.
Mordru Slaine — Trickster god, uses his mimicry to confuse, beguile, and grift. Protector of thieves, illusionists, and performers. He has the ability to change the appearance of his feathers at will but often appears as a starling.
Dominica — Goddess of Winter and War — appears as a humanoid snowy owl. Protectress of adventurers, fighters, guards. She spreads her wings over the world one at a time to bring the snows and ice. Known to be just, but merciless.
Isasuravestna — the Spirit of Flight is depicted as a glowing, diamond-shaped star, a disembodied being that was torn from the Kenku by the old gods. It has yet to be coaxed back into them, but some worship it in an attempt to gain its favor.
Nethaniah — God of Water and Wisdom — He appears as a Kenku waterfowl with webbed feet and hands and shining, waterproof feathers that look blue or black depending on the light. He is the father of Zadok. Preferred by scholars/mages to help the ideas flow.
Ashtoretta — Goddess of Fire — she is the one who has promised to restore the spark of creativity to the Kenku if they become worthy. She is worshipped by artisans for her powers of inspiration. She appears as a golden-feathered Kenku with wings of fire.
One Last Thing…
Is playing a Kenku possible without having the curse broken? Yes. As a player, you have to think about like, what would it be like if you could only speak in vine/meme quotes? If someone scared you, you couldn’t say “that scared me” you’d have to say “I almost dropped my croissant!” For the Kenku, it’s similar. They can only repeat phrases they could have heard somewhere else in the voice of the person they heard say it. The way we’ve been playing it, players are NOT allowed to literally chop up individual words and string them together. They can only use repeated phrases. Basically, the rest of the players and the DM call BS if we think the Kenku character is saying something that they never would have overheard. If we are not speaking in character, and it is assumed that we are going to be talking for several hours (like hatching a plan or something) then we let the player revert to normal speech, assuming that with enough time allotted she could get her point across.
It’s a fun race to play. Try it!