If I were starting a campaign today, tengus would be a core class. No question.
(I’m about to get really ranty, so bear with me. Feel free to apply an NCIS-style dope slap if I become insufferable.)
Way back in the mists of time—when my intros were short, pithy things rather than the bloated monstrosities they have since become—I pitched the centaur as a crucial shorthand for fantasy:
It can be too easy to forget that the nonhumans in the party are just that—nonhuman. But centaurs scream fantasy. They move in the PCs’ world—they might even be PCs—but they are always a bit different, a bit other, a bit more.
The same goes for tengus. What better way to highlight that characters inhabit a fantasy world than by having crow-faced humanoids pass them in the shops? There’s no mistaking a tengu for a human with pointy ears. And since tengus are relatively new to fantasy role-playing, including them immediately breaks you out of the Tolkien or the Forgotten Realms mold. Tengus make a campaign new. Different. Yours.
Tengus are also readymade to fit a number of roles. Need a trickster? How about a mystic? A double-sword-wielding man-about-town? Tengus could be any of those things, depending on your campaign’s needs. The same goes for replacing stale race/class combos. Not sure how to differentiate dwarves/gnomes/halflings in your campaign? Ditch one or two for the tengu—problem solves. Do you rely on a race to the point of fetishization? (“My name is Patch, and I’m addicted to role-playing elves.”) As an exercise, drop them and try out a tengu. And if your kid has just read his first Drizzt Do’Urden book, gently pry it out of his hands and give him a character sheet with a scimitar-wielding crow-man.
Finally, crows and ravens are found in almost every nation’s folklore, which means tengus can take on the overtones of any number of real-world and fantasy cultures. Tengu can be samurai or shugenja. They can be tricksters and oracles, after the Raven in Native American myths. As carrion birds, they could be monsters fighting alongside gnolls, or as grave-tending saddhus who have taken vows of poverty. And in your version of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, why not have the Raven King be an actual raven?
Tengus are awesome. You should use them in your campaign. End rant.
An adventuring party is traveling on the high seas when the crew becomes convinced that one of the party members is a good luck charm. This rankles the jinx eater (see Isles of the Shackles) on board, and the jealous tengu arranges several “accidents” to befall his new rival.
A tengu prowler has given up the pride of his nation and family, but not his own sense of honor. Recently he teamed up with cat-eared, rakshasa-blooded tiefling arcane trickster. As their targets go up in net worth and magical reward (and risk), the tengu begins to feel the beastbrood trickster is taking too many shortcuts—and taking advantage of the vow he swore to protect her. Tengus from his nation are known to hold oaths sacred…but will he?
The first pyramids were not built by men or azers, but tengus. A party of adventurers discovers this while excavating an ancient tomb, but they may not survive the tomb’s many venerable tengu mummies…nor the many present-day tengu, gnoll, and ratfolk cultists waiting outside who have sworn to protect the secret at all costs.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 263
Do I really even need to tell you to pick up the Advanced Race Guide? But yes, there are six pages on tengus in there. Also be sure to check out Isles of the Shackles for the jinx eater—a traditional role for tengus on pirate ships, whose job it is to absorb bad luck. There’s also a tengu nation, Kwanlai, in the Dragon Empires Gazetteer.
Finally, if you’re looking for the more mythic take on tengus, Pathfinder offers the yamabushi tengu, an evil oni, in Pathfinder Adventure Path #49: The Brinewall Legacy.
Finally, Part Deux: Happy Halloween!