The Aarakocra: What we know
The Aarakocra are a Good race from the Elemental Plane of Air. There they fly almost endlessly and so are often loathed to spend time on the ground, or land once they start flying.
As a whole, the Aarakocra are sworn enemies of creatures of elemental earth.
They bear a particular animosity to gargoyles, flying creatures of stone, and battles between the Aarakocra and gargoyles often rage across the Elemental Plane of Air.
As beings from another plane, their presence in the Material Plane is relatively rare. Some aarakocra end up in the Material Plane after finding portals or in the process of actively pursuing their enemies.
Battles between the aarakocra and gargoyles can often spill over into the Material Plane as well.
Of course, some of the bird-folk are born on the Material Plane as their parents decided to live there.
When aarakocra decide to live in the material plane they usually establish a small tribe, often in mountain forests or the canopies of ancient jungles. There they create a foothold in the surrounding area, using their aerial superiority to establish a hunting territory that can span 100 miles.
Aarakocra enjoy living among their community and are usually unmotivated to leave. Those bird-folk that choose the life of an adventurer usually have an extremely strong and specific motivation, regardless of whether they originate from the Elemental Plane of Air or the Material Plane.
It usually takes a disaster, a great threat to their kind, or a mission of vengeance to take an aarakocra away from their tribe and family.
An aarakocra might also leave in order to seek out the Rod of Seven Parts, an artifact that dates back to first edition. An artifact of Law, the rod is central to a conflict between the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and the Queen of Chaos and her champion, Miska the Wolf-Spider.
This is an extended conflict that could be the subject of its own campaign, so you may want to check with your DM if you use this ancient aarakocra quest as part of your character’s backstory.
Aarakocra are a freedom-loving people, a trait taken to the extreme. They value the sky and flight above almost anything that dwells on the ground, pitying those who cannot fly and therefore cannot understand the joy of the sky.
They also have interesting notions of ownership, stemming from the obvious inability for anyone to “own” parts of the sky in the way that people often own land.
Ownership and property, in general, are confusing concepts for them, and an aarakocra might find the notion of theft confusing and might unintentionally take things that aren’t theirs (especially shiny, glittery objects).
Aarakocra Abilities and Traits: What Characterizes the Aarakocra Race
Ability Score Increase: Aarakocra’s Dexterity score increases by 2, and their Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age: Aarakocra reach maturity by age 3 and don’t usually live longer than 30 years.
Alignment: Most Aarakocra are Good and rarely choose sides when it comes to Law and Chaos. Some members of a tribe, like the leaders and warriors, might tend towards lawful alignments while adventurers might tend towards chaotic alignments.
Size: Aarakocra are about 5 feet tall. They have thin, lightweight bodies that weigh between 80 and 100 pounds. Their size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Flight: Aarakocra have a flying speed of 50 feet. To use this speed, they can’t be wearing medium or heavy armor.
Talons: Aarakocra talons are natural weapons, which they can use to make unarmed strikes. If they hit with them, they deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the bludgeoning damage normal for an unarmed strike.
Languages: Aarakocra can speak, read, and write Common, Aarakocra, and Auran.
While most of these traits are fairly standard and are not exceptionally good or poor for your character, the Aarakocra’s ability to fly at level 1 stands out. In fact, this is probably the reason why the race is not allowed in Adventurers League.
Flight is an incredibly versatile ability that can allow you new tactical options in combat as well as the ability to solve problems outside of combat. For example, with flight you gain the ability to travel across chasms, enter buildings through high windows, or drop objects from high above.
When combined with other tools and spells, your utility to the party becomes very high.
It’s also worth mentioning that if your DM follows the new race rules in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything then the aarakocra’s racial bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom can actually be applied to any ability score.
A +2 bonus and a +1 bonus are pretty standard for most races, so with this added rule the Aarakocra can be more easily fit with any class you wish to play.
Nothing stands out among the rest of the racial traits. Having a natural weapon is nice, but will rarely be used by most characters when a weapon will be better.
Additionally, languages rarely come into play in most DnD campaigns since the Tongues spell exists. However, at low levels it may be useful when encountering air elementals.
In addition to these racial traits, the Monster Manual entry for aarakocra says that working together, 5 aarakocra within 30 ft of each other can summon an air elemental after spending 3 rounds maintaining concentration on an aerial dance.
The air elemental appears in an unoccupied space within 60 ft, is friendly and obeys spoken commands, and remains for one hour or until all its summoners die or until any summoner dismisses it as a bonus action.
Aarakocra within 5 feet of an air elemental that leaves the material plane can go with it to the elemental plane of Air.
Whether this is true for all members of the species or just those warriors an adventurer would encounter is up to your DM as this material is not officially an ability for player characters.
Being able to travel to the plane of Air effectively at will, even if you don’t have a way back could be a broken ability, so DMs should be careful before allowing PCs access to this power.
What Classes Are Well Suited to the Aarakocra?
When it comes to the Aarakocra, determining what class works best with their features depends heavily on their ability to fly.
The other racial abilities can be said to work well with any class, especially with the new race rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
When you can change which ability scores apply to which bonuses, you no longer need to worry about getting ability bonuses that work well with your build.
Below is an outline of some classes and builds that work well with having a flight speed early on, and a few that don’t. Instead of listing every class we’ve created a general guide, as there are often many ways to play a single class.
Remember that you can play any class with any race, and there are often excellent roleplaying opportunities for certain character concepts which might involve less mechanically efficient builds. The guide below is not meant to constrain your character building, only to provide mechanical guidance.
The guide is also color-coded for your convenience.
Red won’t contribute to the power and effectiveness of your character build very much, if at all. Red options can sometimes be situationally useful, and might make for an interesting narrative choice, but are largely less effective than other tiers.
Green is a good option – Solid but nothing special, or pretty good but only useful sometimes.
Blue is an excellent choice. Widely regarded as powerful in some way, useful, highly effective.
Purple is S Tier. Hugely powerful or transformative in some way. No choice in D&D is essential, but these options are strongly worth considering when you create your character.
Barbarians and Melee Builds
While 50ft of flight does make you much more maneuverable, Barbarians and other melee builds need to stay close to the ground for most encounters. Thus, a large advantage of the aarakocra race will be wasted, or at least underutilized.
In addition, Paladins and Fighters in particular tend to rely on medium and heavy armor to stay alive, which makes it impossible to fly at all. Trying to change in and out of armor as you need will be a real pain.
While Wizard’s can fly under their own power, they don’t get access to the Fly spell until level 5 and it will cost them a 3rd level spell slot. Level 1 flight that doesn’t require concentration can allow a Wizard to stay in the far back lines, putting them out of range of most enemies and vastly increasing their survivability.
From these back lines above the party the Wizard is then free to bombard the enemy with spells, and the aarakocra’s 50ft fly speed makes it easier for the Wizard to get within range for that perfectly placed Fireball spell.
Outside of combat, however, the Wizard is already an extremely useful utility class, so the addition of flight is marginal at best.
The monk is often cited as an excellent class to play with the aarakocra, and for good reason. An already mobile class, their speed increases combined with the aarakocra’s flight make for a monk that can cross the battlefield extremely rapidly.
The Monk’s unarmored defense also works well with the aarakocra’s flying limitations; you’ll never wear armor so you don’t need to worry about being unable to fly when wearing it.
It’s important to note that a Monk aarakocra attacking with its talons will do slashing damage, and will do only the damage described by the Monk class table or the damage described by the natural weapon racial trait, not both.
Of course, the best use of flight in combat is with ranged characters. Whether you’re a Ranger or Fighter with a longbow or a Warlock who likes to spam Eldritch Blast, flying above the enemy and firing down at them can almost feel broken.
This is especially effective if you can sit outside the range of your enemies attacks, offering damage that your enemies can’t respond to without making themselves vulnerable to your other party members.
Warlocks with the Eldritch Spear invocation will be especially powerful. This invocation increases the range on your Eldritch Blast to 300 ft, and this could theoretically be 600 ft with the Distant Spell metamagic available to Sorcerers.
600 feet puts you at the limit of longbow range, so the vast majority of attackers won’t be able to reach you.
Unfortunately, enemies with longbows can still try to hit you, albeit at disadvantage, but nothing is perfect!
Aarakocra Appearance: General Looks Found Among Them
Aarakocra are the quintessential birdfolk, and are designed to resemble birds in as many ways as possible while still retaining a humanoid form with 2 arms and 2 legs.
At about 5 feet tall and weighing between 80 and 100 pounds, aarakocra are on the small end of human sizes but are still bigger than dwarfs and gnomes.
Like birds, aarakocra have a great deal of feathers and they follow bird coloration; men tend to have brightly colored feathers while the women are more subdued.
Their bird heads and beaks resemble parrots or hawks, but as the DM you may wish to attribute the look of certain species, such as owls, to different tribes.
If you do so keep in mind that some beaks are specialized for certain diets, so you may not wish to use the beak of a toucan for example if you don’t also have that tribe subsist on nuts.
Beyond these details, other physical characteristics can be determined to taste, like the number of talons an aarakocra has or the color of their eyes.
Sticking to the bird theme will allow any additional characteristics to be easily generated simply by looking at the anatomical features of birds. You might say that aarakocra have the hollow mesh bones of birds for example.
However you decide their appearance, it is important to remember not to significantly change the mechanics of the race. You shouldn’t decrease a player’s constitution score because you decide the race should have hollow bones.
Otherwise, you may make the race worse and unnecessarily punish the player.
Aarakocra Names: Male, Female, Neutral
Aarakocra names are a similar length to human names; 2-4 syllables usually. What makes them unique is their frequent inclusion of bird sounds such as whistles and clicks.
Since these are usually difficult for people without the larynx of a bird to say correctly, aarakocra often have nicknames or simplified versions of their names.
Interestingly, their names are universally unisex.
Some examples of names from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion book include Aera, Aial, Aur, Deekek, Errk, Heehk, Ikki, Kleeck, Oorr, Ouss, Quaf, Quierk, Salleek, Urreek, or Zeed.
The Aarakocra: Are They Right for Your Character?
In this article, we’ve covered the society and culture of the aarakocra, their racial abilities, what classes work best with their ability to fly, and their names and appearance. But maybe you’re still wondering whether you should make an aarakocra character.
Will they work well with your character concept? Will they be fun to play with your build?
These are not trivial questions, but if this guide and the information it contains isn’t enough to help you make your decision, consider the following advice.
The best way to decide whether you’ll enjoy playing a character is to consider whether you would enjoy committing to roleplaying as an aarakocra. Would you enjoy seeing the world from their bird-like perspective, their removed and aerial lens?
At the end of the day, a quote-unquote “sub-optimal build” can still be quite fun to play. If you like the idea of the race, their love of the sky and repulsion towards the earth, their perspective on ownership and property, and would enjoy roleplaying from their perspective, then the aarakocra will be an excellent choice for you.