I am currently DM-ing a Pathfinder game (it's a system based on 3.5e D&D). I am planning to introduce a Tengu character to the story. I've done some research, however I'm still not entirely sure how to roleplay such character correctly.

Of course I know that every DM should feel free to interpret any race the way he feels, however I don't want to make any obvious or glaring mistakes, and I would be interested to hear other people's interpretation of this race.

The Tengu are a crow-like race. Hei Feng is their patron deity. Therefore I assume that the race is influenced by Asian/oriental culture. That's why I'm thinking about incorporating an Asian sounding accent.

Moreover they are a bird-like race, so I imagine their voice could be high pitched. At the same time, since they're such mysterious creatures, I can't really imagine them sounding... comical, and that's how usually a person speaking with a sqeeky voice sounds like. Would it therefore be reasonable to assume that they can speak in a normal voice, perhaps a bit quieter and calmer than usual? Perhaps ending sentences with a loud caw instead?

Also, I've read that they are skilled in languages. Would that mean that they use elaborate words and sound sophisticated? Or they just happen to know many languages and are still just simple creatures, and therefore use short and simple sentences?

Has anyone got any experience or valuable advice regarding roleplaying Tengu?

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    \$\begingroup\$ How about reading about Tengu in Japanese mythical lore?... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @Sardathrion, that could potentially help me describe the character, however what I would like to know is how could I potentially behave like a Tengu and I'm afraid that the mythical lore usually depicts them as mythical or godlike creatures, while my Tengu would be a mortal. \$\endgroup\$
    – MMM
    Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 12:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't suggest using "caw" as a way to end sentences. It would get annoying quickly for one thing, and probably lacks verisimilitude. On the other handing, using "caw" as an substitute for cursing, an expression of surprise, etc. does make a lot of sense. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Best avoid accents unless you're really good at them (as in, could pass for someone who's done vocal training). Especially with something like a Japanese accent, it's more likely to sound like the common racist stereotypes than like something that enhances the game experience. If it makes someone uncomfortable you're likely to hear no feedback and just have an unhappy player. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 16:53

3 Answers 3


Don't worry about vocal characteristics (like accent and pitch); they'll be too hard to maintain over the long run, and will just annoy the other players.

Instead, show how your species is different in culture and mindset. Choose a normal human concept and break it, showing what your species does instead.

For example, let's say your species doesn't consider children to be sentient, full members of the species. But, your species considers adults' lives to be sacred, not to be lost for any reason. This will impact your responses to situations, thereby marking you as something different.

  • The party finds a child crying that their parents were killed by some kind of beast. You act surprised that the party is paying any heed to the babblings of a child. You assumed they would leave it alone wherever they found it, expecting it would probably die in the wilderness. After all, hatchlings without a nest have no chance to become adults.

  • The party finds out that some violent criminal they delivered to the king is due to be executed. You assume the party is now going to mount a rescue mission, no matter the cost to themselves.

What if your species considers anywhere they sleep to be their own territory while they're there?

  • The party is invited to spend the night at the home of the local earl. Understanding that this is the earl's way of inviting you to share in the ownership of the estate, you start asking about the financials of the place, wanting to know how much the servants are being paid, how much is being spent on the grounds, etc.

  • After the incident with the earl, you make sure to sleep outside whenever visiting a town, so as not to lay claim to anyone's home.

What if your species has no respect for dead bodies?

  • The party is horrified to see you butchering the corpses of the bandits they just killed. You, of course, are just trying to look out for the group by providing sustenance for everyone. No reason to let good meat go to waste out in the wilderness.

What if your species has no hesitation to give up their life when it would help the greater good (like with bees)?

  • The party is pinned down by a sniper that they haven't been able to find yet. You intend to walk right out into the open so the sniper can take their shot, expecting to die in the process, yet revealing their position to the party.

  • The party captures an enemy officer and begins questioning him about his army's movements. You're bewildered that he allowed himself to be captured instead of committing suicide so that his knowledge couldn't fall into the wrong hands.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Joe, I like the suggestion regarding focusing on cultural differences rather than vocal characteristics. I definitely would like to include some subtle changes in my voice, but your approach to make the character stand out is interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – MMM
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great characters can be described without referring to their appearance, voice, or mannerisms. Always remember that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 5:43

I think Joe's focus on cultural differences is a great point but while not a Tengu I have a friend who often plays a Kenku and I've found that the greatest fun she had was repeatedly playing up the more birdlike aspects of her character.

For example birds have very few taste buds so she would eat the strangest local delicacies and unappetising foods (such as sheep's eyes) without complaint, much to the cringing of the rest of party.

Other example behaviour included making small totems and jewellery from loose and moulted feathers, being generally attracted to high places, and when the party camped she would make strange nest-like structures to sleep in or use a rounded tent.

It certainly made the character different and somewhat alien to the other races in the party.


One of the hardest things is to portray a character with either a disability, or a particular quirk. You have to balance between communicating the intracacies of the character's circumstances with getting your point across. Many shows that have characters with verbal difficulties seem to fall flat on this issue, so don't worry about over/under doing anything.

Personally, I always thought of Tengu as having high pitched voices that are sort of scratchy/gravelly at the same time. However, I would likely also make the character a bit more introverted than normal, since my voicebox will not enjoy me talking like that for very long.

Since they are skilled in languages, I think any real difference between a Tengu and other races would be vocal pitch mainly. Since they can speak any other language, they should sound "normal" if high-pitched.

However, whatever you choose to do, if this character will have a long-narrative or plot-central thing to communicate, I would dampen any vocal effect you do. This is because when you are BSing in the pub, it's ok if you only get one in every 10 words, but when plot critical stuff is being discussed, missing even a few words here and there can really slow things down. In a pure immersion, sure the Tengu would say whatever however, people would ask for clarification 15 times, and would eventually get the message, but that would annoy many players.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Pulsehead, I agree that I should not be taking voice acting too far. \$\endgroup\$
    – MMM
    Commented Jul 28, 2013 at 19:35

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