Fond Memories of the Kenku

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:

I also provided the characters. If memory serves they were 8th level or so in 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 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

A Preview of Things to Come

Two Dungeon World monsters I’ve worked on this morning.

Hydrodæmon Solitary, Large, Magical, Intelligent, Planar, Organized
Bite (d12 damage) 16 HP 2 armor
Special Qualities: Amphibious

This massive frog-like creature has massive dull milky white eyes. Its skin, while strong as mail, is loose and flappy, enabling it to glide for brief distances. Not from this world, the hydrodæmon may be conjured here by powerful magic. It has also been known to rip through to this plane so that it may bear witness to the final moments of the water filled gasps of a large number of people drowning. Instinct: To drown the living

  • Spit inky black sleep toxin at someone nearby
  • Control or befoul nearby water
  • Summon other hydrodæmons to this plane…if only for a short while
  • Hear the final prayers of the drowned
Mageiadæmon Solitary, Stealthy, Magical, Organized, Planar, Amorphous
Raw arcana (d10 damage) 19 HP 2 armor
Close, Ignores Armor, Near, Far

As magic incarnate, the mageiadæmon assumes any functional physical form as it hungrily seeks out offerings of vassalage and places or people of power. Once magic fills the air, the mageiadæmon revels in its debaucherous feast, stripping naked to reveal a maelstrom of arcane energy barely contained.

Mercifully, the mageiadæmon is not of this world, instead vigilantly dwelling amongst the platonic representations of arcane sigils, rituals, and eldritch power, waiting for a time when too much power is drawn from the arcane ether. And in that moment, it travels the arcane conduits to this world. So be wary of a spell gone awry with seemingly little consequence…for you may have open the door to a mageiadæmon. Instinct: To unleash all of the magic

  • Overload a mortal coil with raw arcana
  • Assume a mundane physical form
  • Seize absolute control of nearby magic
  • Call in the bargain that all warlocks make
  • Reveal the true nature of magic

Ice Mummer – A Dungeon World Monster

I’ve been kicking around a Dungeon World dungeon starter, but had hit a road block. Meanwhile, Christmas happened, and I got a fountain pen and a vial of ink. My wife graciously let me use her calligraphy pen, and this sprung from the inky reservoir.

The Ice Mummers

The Ice Mummers

So presented is my effort to codify what I felt was an evocative phrase:

Ice Mummer

Group, Devious
Slam (d6); 13 HP, 1 Armor
Special Qualities: Made of ice

The meticulously reconstituted frozen remains of a person ritually frozen then shattered into thousands of pieces, an ice mummer is the agent of what most certainly is a greater evil. Bound to its icy oxidized bronze mask, the voiceless ice mummer is a harbinger of its master’s incursion.

Instinct: To obey its master

  • Reveal the horror beneath the mask
  • Disperse in a whirlwind of ice and snow
  • To be its master’s eyes