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Soar Like an Eagle-Folk
Denizens of the plane of air, the Aarakocra race is a the bird-folk of the D&D multiverse who roam the skies from isolated aviaries in the tallest of treetops and distant mountain peaks. Distinctly bird-like in both form and mentality, this entry from "The Elemental Evil Player's Companion" gives players the opportunity to take to the skies. While not native to the forgotten realms, aarakocra can make for some unique and decidedly powerful characters across faerun, or any other dungeons and dragon realm. So let's take wing and go through everything you need to know.
Aarakocra are immigrants here, even their settlements here are more akin to outposts and refugee camps, consisting of small tribes, than solid homes and settlements. The material plane is a strange and alien place to aarakocra, and they pity the land bound creatures that live here. Aarakocra are natives of the elemental plane of air, where they can go for months without touching solid ground. To the aarakocra, descending to the ground is only done as a necessary evil.
Traditionally, aarakocra seek only peace and solitude, soaring high over aarakocra territory. Aarakocra tribes tend to keep well away from conflict within their hunting territory, which frequently include high mountains and plentiful plains. They have little interest in the people they see scurrying down below and it takes exceptional circumstances to involve them in the lives of the ground dwellers. If their nest and tribe is threatened, they might resolve to defend themselves, though their self-imposed isolation makes this a rarity. Rarely, their ties to ancient deities and forces from the plane of air can send them out from their nests. An air elemental or other creature from the planes could definitely drive them from their communal nest on a quest. Either to fight against elemental enemies or to recover lost relics of air planar entities.
Generally, though, aarakocra species are a peaceful and wise lot, gently keeping to themselves and only delving into adventure to avert catastrophes or to uphold powerful pacts and ancestral promises. If you plan on rolling up a bird, remember to really nail down their reason for leaving the safety of their nest and the glory of the skies.
How should you play an female aarakocra vs male aarakocra? Well, that largely depends on you; do the males use a feather from their plumage to decorate their communal nest? Do the females conduct use a dive attack with their sharp talons, spears, or dropping rocks to protect their aarakocran tribe? Either way, if the party finds them in a dungeon or town, you'll want to have a reason why this avian humanoid isn't at home protecting their tribe in the stange land that is the prime material plane.
Aarakocra are described as "birdlike" and when illustrated they usually have hawk or eagle-like features, but you're not limited to that. Aarakocra have "eagle to parrot-like" faces and with particularly vague colorful to bland feathers, that leaves you a ton of leeway to play around with. Make a toucan bard! Make a parakeet rogue or a grizzled buzzard necromancer. If it falls under the scope of "bird" you've basically got free-range and should really feel encouraged to be creative. What kind of feathers does your character have? What shape is their beak? Are you a proud shamanistic bird of prey or are you a colorful bird of paradise?
I love 5e races, they do all the work for you but leave you a wonderful creative space. I encourage you to simply google birds and pick a look that you like, unless your DM is a stick in the mud pretty much every avian offering should be available for your character creation. And never forget that you can play against type, imagine a colorful parrot barbarian screaming down from the skies!
Finally, there is one "constant" to aarakocra appearance, in that they're very keen to preen and clean themselves just like real birds. You could of course go against type and make a mangy pigeon-person, but most aarakocra should take at least some pride in their appearance and hygiene.
Aarakocra have names that are made from chirps, whistles and clicks that make them nearly impossible to pronounce by non-aarakocra. So instead of their "real" names your character should generally go by a short nickname that "approximates" the real one. You'll want to go with a lot of strong consonant sounds, since this is meant to be replacing chirps and clicks. Aarakocra names are gender neutral and are usually only a couple syllables long.
Aarakocra Names: Accaa, Af, Aqierc, Callerc, Ce, Ceellel, Crel, Dalaa, Ducarr, Hurirrk, Id, Ikkig, Klass, Kruqa, Kuala, Ouck, Qhuk, Qleqe, Rhurag, Rirr, Zileess.
Your aarakocra character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase : Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age: Aarakocra reach maturity by age 3. Compared to humans, aarakocra don't usually live longer than 30 years.
Alignment: Most aarakocra are good and rarely choose sides when it comes to law and chaos. Tribal leaders and warriors might be lawful, while explorers and adventurers might tend toward chaotic.
Size: Aarakocra are about 5 feet tall. They have thin, lightweight bodies that weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Flight: You have a flying speed of 50 feet. To use this speed, you can't be wearing medium or heavy armor.
Talons : You are proficient with your unarmed strikes, which deal 1d4 slashing damage on a hit.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common, Aarakocra, and Auran.
Let's go through these one by one and see what they mean for your new character:
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Dexterity and +1 to Wisdom is a very versatile boost. Dexterity is almost always useful, and Wisdom is vital for Clerics, Druids, Monks, and Rangers.
Age: Particularly short for the "wise hermit" types, keep that in mind when rolling your character up.
Alignment: Hard neutral bent that can lead towards L/N, true N, and C/N. Aarakocra generally just want to be left alone.
Size: Medium-sized, nothing special, keep on walking.
Speed: Short 25 movement, but you didn't pick a bird race to walk everywhere (sorry kenku ).
Flight: Let's be honest, this is the reason to pick the race. True flight is incredibly useful on its lonesome, but 50 feet! Aarakocra are incredibly fast and maneuverable to the point of banning from many playgroups. It does come with the armor limitation which largely class restricts the race, but we'll go into the best class options in a minute.
Flight is a straight-up win condition in many early level encounters. A flying character with any decent ranged option can just straight up win a war of attrition in many cases. A ton of entries in the monster manual just don't have an answer to an archer who's more than 5 feet out of their reach. But also keep this in mind many DM's ban this race! Adventurer's league straight-up bans them and a ton of DMs will ban the bird. Make sure you ok an Aarakocra adventurer with your DM before showing up to the game with one.
This becomes less and less of a problem at higher levels though. Encounters around CR 7 and up tend to anticipate flight as a possibility from spellcasters and it's not just an "I win" card. It's also highly dependent on what the DM throws at you, and a smart DM can easily adjust encounters with more ranged or flying options for the opposition.
This fly speed doesn't have a height restriction, a time restriction, or even any real modifiers at all, you just fly. For now, just keep in mind how insanely powerful this fly speed really is and how few races gain access to flying in the first place.
Talons: Semi-tacked on, but natural attacks are always nice to have in a pinch. Unless you want to specifically build around them, you'll likely never use them. Just try to remember them in scenarios where your weapons/casting have been taken away and your back is against the wall, talons on your feet might just save your life.
Languages: Common, your unique racial language, and a nice little bonus picking up the Auran language. Auran doesn't let you talk to birds (I've had this argument) but if you run into intelligent avian creatures or beings from the plane of air it can be just the thing.
You shouldn't feel typecast or required to make optimized builds, 5e is a wonderful system and it's hard to make broken characters or characters that "don't work". However, if you're interested in taking advantage of the aarakocra's abilities to the fullest here's a few examples builds that you might be able to use as a starting point.
Black Hawk Monk
Aarakocra monks are almost stereotypical in the community now. Dexterity and Wisdom line up perfectly for a monk and adding the flying speed to the already nimble monk makes for an almost untouchable maneuver master. You gain your AC from your Wisdom rather than armor so that armor restriction on your flight is irrelevant. Although to clear up a common misconception, your talons don't stack with the monk's unarmed damage, but the talons aren't the important thing anyway. The monk's movement bonuses get to stack on top of your natural fly speed, so a level 6 aarakocra monk is getting to zip around at 65 feet in a single move.
You can't really go wrong with an aarakocra monk regardless of your build, but there's one I particularly like that allows you to make strafing energy bomb runs at your enemy. Simply select the Way of the Sunsoul and fire off those energy bursts as you soar untouched above the battlefield. You turn into essentially a fighter jet making attack runs with very little to fear of repercussion unless the enemies all start holding their actions for you.
Flock Master Druid
Dexterity and Wisdom are both incredible bonuses to a druid, and once again your armor restriction isn't much of a worry for the typically light armored druid. The "flock master" takes the Circle of the Shepherd while prioritizing summoning spells. One of the greatest weaknesses of the "Summoner" archetypes is your potential to be hit and lose concentration on the summons. As an aarakocra with your incredibly fast fly speed, you can cast your summons and get out of harm's way, leaving the hawk totem to buff them as you put distance between the threats and yourself.
Once again, the combination of Dexterity and Wisdom is exactly what the ranger class is looking for. But with your easy flight, you can essentially become a flying gun platform. Take the archery fighting style and rain arrows down from up above. With a longbow, you're going to be nearly untouchable in any open environment where you have room to fly.
Owl Assassin Rogue
Wisdom is a bit lost, but the +2 bonus to Dexterity is prime rogue material. Flight is an absolute godsend for a rogue of any kind. The ability to fly right over traps, right over walls and defenses, or just travel without leaving footprints. Flight really expands your options for getting eyes on a target, and you can truly become death from above as you dive blade first towards your targets.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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