What started as a well-meant life as a monk, did not go as planned.
I mean, the liquor was always good. And I became quite adept with my fists. But the best part was the illusion that I, my two compatriots and the master were just a pack of Kenku drunks. And that worked for us for a good while. Until the powers that be decided that the kind, sweet, quiet bird people were a nuisance and a danger to the ‘public safety’. So, of course, they had to be exterminated like rats. To be honest, didn’t see that coming from the good people of Legerville. But a few bad apples rot the whole damn barrel, they say.
So, as trained as we were, the guard caught us by surprise and killed my fellow students and mortally wounded the Master. I was able to take down the three that came barging in. But I could not save my master. In his dying breath, he passed to me something wonderfully unexpected.
Kenku are an interesting lot. For me, they have the best backstory as any race and bring the best baggage for some great storylines and drama. All according to how far back you go, these creatures are thrice cursed. But cursed they are. First having lost the ability to fly, it grounded them in a way that devastated them as people. Imprisoned upon the ground, they learned to scrounge for what they needed. They became natural thieves. But that was the problem in the first place, right? (Go read up)
Their second screw up brought a second curse. This time, the cursing agent took their voice leaving them to forever live life using the sound and voices of others. They became natural mimics which can also lead to some fascinating roleplaying. But the point is that they are born without a voice of their own. But, although you’d think they would get the point by now, well, they didn’t.
Their final transgression brought what may be the most damning curse. Now, for a sentient bird, taking their gift of flight and speech is pretty bad. But this final curser went much farther. Supposedly, he took their ability to process independent thought. Now the only 5E material we actually have is from the newest Monster Manual. And, in this volume, this last part is left out. This is fine since it’s the hardest to roleplay or even explain. So you can keep it or toss it, the point is these wingless raven-like creatures we know as Kenku have erred their way to a cursed life.
And that’s where our Kenku hero (?) comes in. Let’s call him Chug. He’s a sixth level monk, fourth level rogue. His subclass for Monk is the Drunken Master and his subclass for rogue is Inquisitive. This makes for a masterful combo if you like intrigue and spycraft with a little added fist pounding.
Unlike most Kenku, he was rescued from the streets by a martial arts master who is forever known as simply MASTER. He and two other students learned the Way of the Drunken Master. This subclass is perfect for a race like the Kenku since, because of its curses, others already marginalize and underestimate them. Deception is one of the strengths of the Drunken Master; seeming tipsy and nonthreatening aids them in taking down opponents. And a Kenku mimic something? Bonus, right? If you take that third curse seriously it comes with a caveat. They may not have originality, but, now, they not only mimic voices, they mimic EVERYTHING. So ‘appearing’ drunk is an easy feat for them.
The Monk subclass opens up with proficiency in the Performance skill which you’ll need to pull off your deception so they let down their guard. And brewer’s supplies make you a hit with the whole monastery. After that, your Drunken Master gains the Disengage action and an increase in speed for the turn you use Flurry of Blows in. Tipsy sway gets you out of the prone position by simply spending 5 feet of movement and helps you ‘redirect’ attacks that miss you to another attacker seen within 5 feet.
The crazy part of this monk is that, although it seems to be a harmless drunk, by sixth level, the monk gets an extra 15 feet of speed; making it a full 45 feet of walking movement. If he gets paired up with a magic user with the haste spell or, god forbid, gets the Boots of Speed, this monk can go from zero to ungoldly in no time. This makes your ‘harmless drunk’ an immediate danger they weren’t prepared for.
Now we poured all of our ability increases into Dexterity and Wisdom, so, as a monk, his AC hit 19 by 10th level. This will work out differently, of course, all according to the original numbers you’re working with. But you get the idea. This unassuming bird becomes a fast, hard to hit target with dangerous fists.
Now for flavor, Chug carries three jugs with various forms of alcohol within. His personal jug is placed at the center of his garb. It is flanked on each side by the jugs of his fellow students who have fallen. He has written in Auran on each jug using the blood of his fallen companions. On the one jug it is written JOY and it is, by far the largest jug. But on the other jug is ANGER which may be the smallest of the three, but it houses the most potent ale. He was unable to retrieve his Master’s jug as it was damaged in the fight and lie broken symbolically by his side.
Taking down the three city guards was a blind act of fury. I don’t remember even doing it; only that it was done. I knelt, broken like my master’s jug upon the floor beside him. I was done. I had no where to go and I could hear them coming for me. But it did not matter. I was done.
Or so I thought.
As if from the shadows came a being, much like me; ravenform and all. But it was as much shadow as flesh as it pulled me away, we both sank into the darkness of the room. The next years were a drunken blur. But, as I gained my senses back, my new ‘master’ taught me skills for survival in this cruel, heartless world.
“You will need to learn the shadows and how to be present but unnoticed. You master taught you well of how to lull you opponent into a false sense of strength. I will teach how to peer deep into the hearts of men and find their inner secrets. You will not only be stealthy and dangerous, you will be inciteful and informed. There are more ways of beating a man than with your fists.”
And so there was. For information in this world of night was far more valuable than any fighting skill I could ever learn.
Chug’s second ‘master’ brought him into the world of rogues. For this part we built him 4 levels of rogue with the Inquisitive subclass. These first levels bring skills to the table like expertise, sneak attack, cunning action along with the Archetype and that much needed ability score improvement.
This is where the spy like qualities come into play. Instead of the hands-on Assassin or the magical Arcane Trickster, the Inquisitive Rogue is best at finding out what doesn’t want to be found. Secrets found can help your party gain much needed information key to surviving the next encounter or dungeon. It may allow your team to infiltrate the local thieves’ guild. This rogue still gets sneak attack and proficiencies in skills like deception, insight and investigation. But the added plus of being taught to be that fly on the wall gives you a working knowledge about the hearts of mortals and how they work.
Ear for Deceipt gives your character the chance to nearly be a moral lie detector. We’ve pushed its Wisdom high so its wisdom checks on determining lying is powerful already. But, now, you can’t roll less than 8.
Eye for Detail allows you to use a bonus action to make a Wisdom (Perception) check to spot hidden creatures or objects. This ability also aids your intelligence (Investigation) checks to find clues. Now Chug is rather of normal intelligence but his perception is of the highest available for a Kenku (I think). We have taken the Observant feat to pop his passive perception to 24. That’s 10 + 9 proficiency bonus +5 for the Observant feat. Damn. Hard to get the drop on this Kenku. (This also helped getting Chug to a 20 Wisdom and he reads lips. The Resilient feat helped get Dexterity to 18)
Panda (our character creator), when putting this character together for a side game, developed it at 10th level. In the type of setting we were playing in, it called for one uncommon magic item. Working on Chug’s perception and alertness to his surroundings, Panda picked the EYES OF THE EAGLE.
It was specially fitted to wear over his Kenku beak, of course. This gives Chug advantage on all perception checks that rely on sight. And he can pick out small things from far distances. This makes it extremely hard to get the drop on this intoxicated roguish monk and just adds to his usefulness.
The being that saved him that night was somewhat like him, but more than a Kenku. Was he divine? Maybe. Maybe not. But this new patron was more than he seemed and, although he was highly steeped in a powerful magic, he only taught Chug the art of stealth, insight and information gathering. This made the Kenku a dangerous agent who could, not only, defend himself quite well, but could get deep in a place or organization and come out with more knowledge than most.
art done by Mathieu Seveno on speedpaint
Panda feels that most of what Chugs does next will be in the Monk class. But it’s up to the individual player. Below you can see him at 10th level, but you could totally build this one level at a time. You can start with Monk OR Rogue; it doesn’t matter. And after 10th, the sky is the limit. What would YOU do?
Final Point: The Voice of the Master
Kenku do not have a voice of their own. They usually pick up tidbits from this person or the next. But this conclave of monks have worked with Kenkus for some time. No one knows when it started, but there was a moment when the old master passed the torch onto the student. On one of these occasions, it was a non-Kenku teacher passing the Way onto a Kenku student. It was at this point something powerful happened. He passed not only the torch, but his very voice. The student, from that point on, no longer used any voice but the one he received from the Master. And it has been this way for a long time. And, now, Chug has the voice.