The kenku player race introduced in Volo's Guide to Monsters has the Expert Forgery feature, defined as follows.

You can duplicate other creatures' handwriting and craftwork. You have advantage on all checks made to produce forgeries or duplicates of existing objects. (VGM p. 111)

The racial description includes the following flavor text associated with this feature.

[Kenku] can copy books, make replicas of objects, and otherwise thrive in situations where they can produce large numbers of identical items. (VGM p. 110)

I think this reading is fairly straightforward in that obviously they can copy mundane scrolls and books, but I am interested in how this feature should intersect with the class features of a wizard attempting to copy a spell scroll into their spellbook.

The wizard's ability to copy spells they have found into their spellbook is detailed in the Player's Handbook (PHB p. 114). There are no checks necessary for the act of copying a spell in general. There are checks, however, when a wizard copies a spell from a spell scroll in particular, as detailed in the Dungeon Master's Guide chapter on magic items.

A wizard spell on a spell scroll can be copied just as spells in spellbooks can be copied. When a spell is copied from a spell scroll, the copier must succeed on an Intelligence (Arcana) check with a DC equal to 10 + the spell's level. If the check succeeds, the spell is successfully copied. Whether the check succeeds or fails, the spell scroll is destroyed. (DMG pp. 200-201)

Both I (as a DM) and my DM friend (in whose game I play a kenku wizard) rule that Expert Forgery applies to this check in our campaign. Our justification is that in the case of a kenku who is also a wizard the intersection of their unique skill sets would make them better at the task of copying a spell scroll into a spellbook than either a non-wizard kenku or a non-kenku wizard, hence they would have advantage on the task.

However, I am looking for an unbiased interpretation, given that there does not seem to be any official word on this yet either on Stack Exchange or Sage Advice. We will probably still rule it legal in our campaign for "rules as fun," but this does not negate my intellectual interest in the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hum, time to get a kenku hireling to make backups of my spellbooks. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 17 '16 at 11:55

Your ruling is unlikely to break anything. However, the rules on their own (and the underlying fictional significance of the rules) appear to answer this with a No.

The surface rules difficulty is that a there's no object duplication involved — you start with a spell scroll and end with a page in a spellbook. These aren't identical objects, as the ability requires.

One might argue that they are the same, just with one bound into a book and one not, but spell scrolls and spellbook pages aren't functionally interchangeable either. They function differently and contain different information: you can cast a spell off a scroll, thereby destroying it, but you can't cast a spell off a page in a spellbook in the same way (and if you do it as a ritual it works differently, and doesn't destroy it); similarly, understanding the scroll is harder than understanding the page in the spellbook. The two objects are distinctly different and the kenku's particular skill doesn't come into play.

But this mere rules difference reflects a deeper meaning: how learning spells from scrolls works in the fiction. The normal process of “copying” a spell from a scroll into a wizard's spellbook actually involves a translation: from how the scroll presents a ready-to-cast spell, into a record of the wizard's own personal understanding of the nature and process of preparing and casting the spell. The Arcana check for copying appears to represent the possibility of failing to extract the necessary understanding of the spell from the scroll's not-a-spellbook formulation, and thus the possibility of being unable to scribe the spell due to simply failing to actually learn it from the scroll. Being good at duplicating things doesn't help with learning arcane secrets of the universe.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But the Kenku could create a copy of the spell scroll with his forgery skill, ending up having two scrolls. You can then try to copy the scroll into your book with a regular INT check. If you fail, the scroll will be destroyed, but I still got a copy. Make another copy, try again. Rinse and repeat until you successfully copied the scroll into your book. This might be a time consuming act between the wizard and the GM, so you might short it by saying, if you successfully create one or maybe two copies of the scroll, you automatically have it copied to your book, just to shorten things up? \$\endgroup\$ – Korashen Aug 27 '18 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Korashen That’s different than the question asked. But the short answer there is that it creates a physical duplicate only, not a real magical item (just an expert forgery), so it doesn’t function magically and wouldn’t be usable to attempt to learn the spell. So no infinite tries to learn the spell, and no need to shortcut it and just say okay, you copy it into your spellbook. At best, you could make counterfeit spell scrolls to sell, which don’t work when the buyers try to learn or cast them. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 27 '18 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! You might want to add this quote from PHB p114: "Copying a spell into your spellbook involves reproducing the basic form of the spell, then deciphering the unique system of notation used by the wizard who wrote it. You must practice the spell until You understand the sounds or gestures required, then transcribe it into your spellbook using your own notation." \$\endgroup\$ – SilentAxe Mar 2 at 4:44

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