The Alter Self spell says (emphasis mine):

Change Appearance. You transform your appearance. You decide what you look like, including your height, weight, facial features, sound of your voice, hair length, coloration, and distinguishing characteristics, if any.

Would changing the sound of its voice in this way allow a Kenku caster to defy its racial curse for that hour?

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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer I think his real question is, can a Kenku defy its racial curse and speak like other races do with the use of Alter Self... \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer He's referring to the fact that Kenku are only able to speak via mimicry of sounds or speech that they have heard in the past. See here: dndbeyond.com/races/kenku#HopelessPlagiarists \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you the DM or the player? \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 17:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Neither, I was just curious. \$\endgroup\$
    – RallozarX
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:26

2 Answers 2



In fact, that clause of alter self does absolutely nothing for a Kenku, as they can already alter the sound of their voice with their Mimicry trait, unless a GM rules discerning imitations made via alter self (which has no particular rules) functions differently than discerning imitations made via Mimicry.

Furthermore, even if you had the freedom to change more than just the sound of your voice, you still couldn't use this to bypass your curse because the rules for the Kenku race's languages trait say you can speak only by using mimicry and alter self specifies none of the changes can alter any of your statistics, of which said restriction is a part.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is wrong, since it misses the point that Kenkus, in fact, do not even have a voice to begin with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Catar4
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Catar4 The kenku's 'languages' trait indicates that, contrary to their fluff, kenku totally speak (they can only speak via their mimicry trait, which unambiguously qualifies using the mimicry trait as speaking). If you mean to draw a distinction between being able to speak and having a personal voice, that's fine, but kind of irrelevant to the question-- why get into subjective setting cosmology details that will surely vary between campaigns when there is a clear unambiguous explicit answer? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ The language trait is there only for the character to be able to determine which language they can read and write. I'll agree that the rest is fuzzy, which is why I focus on the last part of the racial curse: "Finally, to ensure that the kenku could never divulge any secrets, their master took away their voices.". I think this sentence is key to answering this question and trying to argue that point to be futile. For once, the wording (the keyword voice) is unequivocal. \$\endgroup\$
    – Catar4
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Catar4 While it's unclear what is meant by "took away their voices", the kenku absolutely produce sounds from their mouths. Functionally speaking, that is their "voice". It's just that it's not specific to them, but a mimicry of what they've heard. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is the part that is entirely subjective. I personally agree that it can be interpretated both ways ... but I do stop the logical leaps to the one key sentence about them not having a voice of their own. But still, I think I'll add an addendum to my answer on that one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Catar4
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 18:26

There is a difference between "having a voice" and "the sound of a voice" ... since the spell does not mention anything about the ability to communicate and/or speak languages, then alter self would not in any way free a Kenku from its racial curse.

From the description of the curse:

Finally, to ensure that the kenku could never divulge any secrets, their master took away their voices.

They do not have a voice. You can't change the sound of something that does not exist.

Addendum: We're having debates in the comments about Kenkus having a voice or not, since it is kind of possible to go both ways, subjectively speaking.

I personally chose to focus on "the kenkus have had their voices removed, so they technically do not have a voice".

Others prefer to think they still have a voice, since they can mimick sounds they heard, including other beings' voices.

So in the context of that question which is about changing the sound of one's voice (alter self is the name of the spell after all) I see an additional argument to support my answer/interpretation:

  • If you can only mimick sounds made by others and are unable to produce new sounds, by yourself, how would you be able to change the sounds of your mimicks ?
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given the wording, I would say that they function like audio recorders, producing only what sounds they have heard, as they heard them. So while they dont have voices, they can "speak" by producing the words they have heard in the voices they heard. (which would be awkward if they have only heard short sentences from each individual) \$\endgroup\$
    – Journer
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 1:59

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