For a few years in high school and college, I had a tradition of running a New Year’s Eve one shot. We would order up a six foot sub, plenty of caffeine, and start gaming around 5pm. Our sessions would last until 8am or so.
One session, I believe it was December 31st, 1993, I had a very rudimentary adventure planned out. The characters were going to escort a diplomat to another dignitary’s seat of power. I had a few set pieces in mind:
- A stained glass golem erupting from the chamber
- A red dragon advising the foreign dignitary
- A night resting at a forlorn and abandoned tower (this one was cribbed from the 1st Edition of the Middle Earth Role Playing game)
I also provided the characters. If memory serves they were 8th level or so in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Second Edition (AD&D 2E 🔍). The characters were:
- A human priestess of Sune
- A dwarf fighter/thief
- A human thief/diviner
- A human fighter
- And a few others now lost to my memory
As I was handing out characters, I gave my friend Matt the Diviner/Thief. It was a finesse character with no apparent ability to directly influence things (poor Strength and Charisma).
Matt looked at the character sheet and ask: “Why do I speak Gnomish?”
And that is when the wheels went in motion. He was working for the gnomes but something went sour. An early scene established that Kenku were slighted by the gnomes and were going to take it out on him.
This was one of the first times that I had truly improvised my game based on a question from the player. And as it turned out, this left a lasting impression on me.
First, I have always been particular to diviners. Even when I play Apocalypse World I gravitate towards high Sharp characters, attempting to observe and build an advantage.
Second, the power of asking questions at the table cannot be understated. While the details of the encounter with the Kenku are lost, I believe everyone at the table enjoyed the dynamism of an encounter where it wasn’t simply “Kill someone.”
Third, Kenku. I fell in love with the avian masters of subterfuge. While I haven’t brought them back into play, I’ve always had them waiting in the wings.
So this past week, I began exploring how I might use Kenku. Thinking more about their motivations and social structure.
Write-up for Fate Core
Aspects: That Shiny will be Mine!, Blackmailing Information Broker
Skills: Good (+3) Deceive, Fair (+2) Stealth, Average (+1) Contacts, Burglary
Stunts: Mimicry. Can mimic familiar sounds, voices, and accents.
Stress: 2 boxes
Write-up for Dungeon World
|Kenku||Group, Stealthy, Devious, Organized, Intelligent, Cautious, Hoarder|
|Short sword (d4 damage 1 piercing)||6 Hit Point (HP 🔍)||2 armor|
“I’m telling you, he had a beak and clawed hands!” said the prisoner.
“Right. I’ve heard that one before. And there were a dozen of them,” said the jailer.
“Yeah! How’d you know?”
“Because you ain’t the first. I’ve heard lots of things. But the idea that there are a bunch bird men running things in this city is absurd. Think about it? Wouldn’t someone have caught on by now? The council? The guards? The guilders? Shut up and face up to it…you did something stupid, and 10 years hard labor is your reward.”
Instinct: To collect that which shines
- Pass through society without drawing attention
- Mimic the sound of anything ever heard
- Blackmail: Let other people do your dirty work!
- Where there is one, many are sure to be found