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A Great Old One warlock is granted awakened mind at first level -- a limited form of conversational telepathy that allows communication (with range limitations) with any being that can understand at least one language.

Kenku, however, are under a racial curse that prevents them from speaking except via mimicry of sounds they've heard in the past (as if a talking crow or myna had the intelligence to carry on a conversation with its mimicked words). Obviously, a Kenku could be a target of this ability from another being, because they understand speech -- but could the Kenku reply other than by mimicry of words and phrases he'd heard? Beyond this, could a Kenku Great Old One warlock use this ability to carry out one-on-one conversation without having to dig through his memory for words or phrases that fit the need?

Note: most upvoted vs. accepted answer here; there seems to be some conflict yet on whether awakened mind is even two-way...

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Replying to a Warlock

Awakened Mind has been clarified in Sage Advice (page 6) to apply only in one direction. A warlock talking to a Kenku using Awakened Mind doesn't allow the Kenku to reply except aloud using mimicry.

Does the warlock’s Awakened Mind feature allow two-way telepathic communication? The feature is intended to provide one-way communication. The warlock can use the feature to speak telepathically to a creature, but the feature doesn’t give that creature the ability to telepathically reply. In contrast, the telepathy ability that some monsters have (MM, 9) does make two-way communication possible.

A Kenku Warlock

A warlock Kenku should be able to use Awakened Mind to express ideas mind-to-mind that it can't physically say due to the curse, as the flavor text and stat block don't bar thinking in a language. It does bar "creative thought", but that is both more far more subjective (and impossible -- as communicating without words requires a fair bit of creativity). As there is nothing expressly forbidding it, I'd say it is perfectly within the rules, as they are currently written.

The person they are communicating with would have to reply aloud, as above.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You should remove the replying to a warlock, since awakened mind is one way \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralVax Sep 6 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, it always boils down to the "no creative thought" thing, which is why the whole thing is ridiculous nonsense that should be ignored by everyone. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 7 at 0:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman WOTC: "Here's a race for you, goodluck roleplaying it!" \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 7 at 13:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I don't know. I had a player play a halfling that could only whistle. He role-played it well and we didn't have many communication issues... I would say it greatly depends on the table and its players, not saying it isn't challenging just that it takes a specific mindset and patience. Creative players will surprise you and limitations demand creativity. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Sep 9 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I agree that most players can't handle playing with such limitations but those that can make for a very fun and unique gaming experience. I for one am tired of having Humans ...with pointy ears, ...with beards, …height differences, …with horns... this is the first race that really put forth something within the realm of an actual hard flaw. This is dependent on the DM entirely... in my world half-elves are persecuted and abused because it was the elves that invaded the humans and they are the product of less than consensual encounters from the war. To say nothing about tieflings. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Sep 9 at 12:12
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The question touches a grey area.

Because the answer primarily depends on what one actually means by the word "speaking". So, a ultimate DM ruling is paramount here.

TL;DR: One can "speak" in his mind, "hearing" his own voice in his head, without actually moving his mouth of making any sound, and thus telepathy counts as "speaking".

The relevant Raw texts:

Kenku racial curse flavor text:

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

Kenku trait:

Languages. You can read and write Common and Auran, but you can speak only by using your Mimicry trait.

Warlock Awakened Mind:

Starting at 1st level, your alien knowledge gives you the ability to touch the minds of other creatures. You can communicate telepathically with any creature you can see within 30 feet of you. You don't need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.

Emphasis mine.

As a DM, I see two kinds of telepathy:

  • Deep Connection Telepathy: The famous "mind to mind" of Spock from Star Trek: Conversing directly in images, feelings, memories, raw concepts, etc. Not by "talking aloud in your mind"! This telepathy type bypasses all language barriers. It is neither" speaking'" nor "writing". However, it can come with it's own set of interesting roleplaying communication challenges. Only mostly limited to some psionic (sorry: mystic now!) powers in D&D.

  • Classic Telepathy: The much more common form of Telepathy works much like picking up a cell phone and sending a text message. You are "speaking", but only in the sense that you are doing it only in your mind. Similarly, the recipient "hears" what you say, but only in the sense that he hears it "in his head", and overall it feels like it is some mind-voice coming from nowhere.

Usually with Classic Telepathy you don't need to share a language with the target, but the target must know at least one language, and while not written down specifically, it is very strongly implied that the sender is just using one of the language that he knows, too, to talk from his mind alone. It is like typing a text in English and sending it to a French speaking person, and the magic does the translation automatically: Both the sender and the recipient are still using a language, just not necessarily he same one.

Classic Telepathy thus seem to require the sender to "speak a language from his mind" and is a form of "speaking". Mentally, this is the same as speaking aloud, except you don't physically move your mouth, tongue, or vocal chords.

Except for a few mystics (psionics) powers, which are closer to how Deep Connection Telepathy works, Classic Telepathy is the "normal" form of telepathy in D&D, and is also how most DMs and most source-materials (including non-D&D-related sources such as novels and fantasy movies) will depict telepathy (at least, most of the time).

So we can say that Awakened Mind will not bypass the curse.

Now, the deity removing the voice, also means the inner voice, too. If the divine curse was not a mental aspect, but a physical one, meaning if it only affected a kenku's ability to use his vocal chords, then even Mimicry would not work, because the kenku would be a mute. So the curse affects the mind, not the muscles, and thus affects language capabilities directly.

Of course, the DM is perfectly in his right to assume that only the "outside" voice was removed, not his "inner voice", but since RAW doesn't make the distinction, and it is fluff text, I assume the fluff text refers to all types of voices, outer voice and inner voice, and use more the mechanical description than the fluff.

Speaking doesn't necessarily have to be only in the form "talking aloud using your mouth tongue and vocal chords". A person can perfectly "hear" his own voice "in his own mind" when "talking aloud but only in one's own mind".

So, any form of "speaking" counts for the curse. However, RAW says that written language is not affected. But, as per RAW, having an exception for some way to communicate, such as by using written language, does not mean that suddenly every other way of "speaking" (communicating) also gets to be an exception too.

So the question becomes: Is Classic Telepathy "closer" to speaking, or "closer" to writing? While this can be debated, as a DM I tend to apply the most obvious and common sense "Occam's Razor" answer: When you use telepathy, the recipient "hears you" in his own mind. So, you are "talking" to him, in your own mind. This is pretty much some kind of verbal communication, just done along another "bandwidth channel": mental waves instead of sound waves.

Awakened Mind is a typical D&D way to do telepathy, thus of the "Classic Telepathy" type. It is thus a way of speaking "directly with your mind". And thus, the kenku curse applies.

Other considerations.

A DM should consider the side effects of letting any Telepathy bypass the kenku curse, especially since Awakened Mind is at will. thus, very rare will be situations where the warlock PC couldn't just use telepathy to speak to other creatures, instead of just speaking "normally". Basically, that DM would end up with a player not wanting to be affected by his racial penalty.

If the campaign is all about not bothering with roleplaying fluff and just getting on to the next action sequence as soon and as painlessly as possible, then ok, no problem, a DM can allow it. After all, as per DMG page 4:

And as a referee, the DM interprets the rules and decides when to abide by them and when to change them.

But, by default "RAW", I think telepathy is a way to "speak with your mind", and thus the curse applies.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The last part of this answer seems to be too much focused on "badwrongfun" for me to be able to upvote it. I really think it ought to be removed. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 9 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik: I edited and reformatted it to take your recommendation into account. Thanks for the advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Sep 9 at 17:14
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I would say that by RAW, the answer is no, the curse would not prevent the use of telepathic communication, from the Awakened Mind feature or otherwise.

Of the 3 curses imposed upon the Kenku, there are 2 to consider:

the spark of creativity was torn from their souls

their master took away their voices

The first of the above curses would basically mean that a Kenku could not do or suggest something it had not yet seen/heard/experienced, but it would still have memories of those it had.

The second of the above curses could mean one of two things, either that Kenku cannot produce sounds from their mouths/throats, or that they cannot produce speech. Given that they possess the trait Mimicry, allowing them to mimic sounds they have heard, it is likely the latter of the two possibilities. Which also means they could convey ideas by means other than speech, allowing for telepathic communication.

Awakened Mind states:

You can communicate telepathically with any creature you can see within 30 feet of you. You don't need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.

Given the only requirement is understanding at least 1 language, it is likely that Awakened mind works via the projection of information other than words, likely images, sounds, and concepts. The only limit on a Kenku with this ability, is the same as verbal communication, the information would have to be that which the Kenku had experience with.

Further, due to the wording of Awakened Mind, the telepathic communication would be only from the Warlock, not two-way, as evidenced by the following choice of wording: "for the creature to understand your telepathic utterances", as opposed to "for you to understand each others telepathic utterances", which would indicate two-way communication instead.

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