Monster Manual, 5th Edition (Link to Purchase)
Medium Humanoid, Neutral Good
Challenge Level 1/4, 50 XP
Recommended for Low Level Parties
Aarakocra range the Howling Gyre, an endless storm of mighty winds and lashing rains that surrounds the tranquil realm of Aaqa in hte Elemental PLane of Air. Making aerial patrols, these birdlike humanoids guard the windy borders of their home against invaders from the Elemental Plane of Earth, such as gargoyles, their sworn enemies.
First up in our search for the best monster, we’ve got one of the many varieties of bird people in the manual: the Aarakocra. Sworn enemy of Gargoyles, summoners of Air Elementals and enemies of Elemental evil. So how do these eagle people stand as monsters?
Well… They’re pretty good! They’ve got some interesting lore and a cool ability, so they could be used for plenty of creative encounters. Still, with their stats and alignment, they’d be better suited as allied NPCs then foes in battle.
Lore: Seekers of Evil
The story of the Aarakocra is incredibly interesting. As servants of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, the mighty bird people have a simple job: to scout temples of Elemental Evil. If deemed necessary, they take the fight to them or report back to their leaders. Some of them take up residence in the Material Plane upon peaks of the tallest mountains, particularly the ones near the Air Plane. Here, they keep an eye on any possible threats towards their home.
Despite this patience, the Aarakocra prefer to live like the air. They prefer to keep moving, always flying from one location to the next. But they will wait for years if necessary, should they suspect Elemental Evil afoot.
Though they are not entirely dedicated to this task. The Aarokocra seek out the Seven Shards of the ‘Rod of Law‘, a legendary weapon used by seven Vaati heroes to defeat the Queen of Chaos’s most powerful servant, Miska the Wolf Spider. The shards of the weapon, which shattered upon killing it, have scattered across the multiverse, and now the Aarokocra dream of reconstructing it, thus bringing the ‘Rod of Seven Parts‘ to be.
This lore could be used in a lot of creative ways to give the players a unique adventure. Perhaps they run into a wandering Aarokocra seeking the Seven Shards and dive into a dungeon to find one alongside him. Hell, you could have a full adventure surrounding just that!
Or maybe the players can run into a clan of Aarokocra atop a tall mountain during another job. They could get roped into their multi-year long battle with an Elemental Evil of some kind. This could either make a full adventure of it’s own, or perhaps it could be used to gain a powerful ally for later in a grander adventure. Or perhaps the players could be recruited by that Elemental Evil, who has shrugged off it’s evil ways and wishes for peace from the assault of the bird people. Maybe the evil truly has changed, and you can create a morally grey story that revolves entirely around the players choices. Or, if you want to keep it simple, perhaps the Elemental is deceiving them, and they need to make their way out.
There’s plenty of fun possibility for story telling with these guys. Whether they be the players allies or their foes, they could make for an excellent center piece in a grand tale in the skies. Or perhaps it could simply be put to use in a player’s backstory, as the Aarakocra are playable races.
As are Kenku. And Kobolds. And a whole lot of other dudes. Thanks, Volo’s Guide!
Design: Yep, That’s a Bird Man.
It’s kind of hard to talk about the design. It’s just too simple! Effective, yes, but simple!
These sure are bird people. They’re very tall, and they certainly look cool. But in terms of creativity? Well, it’s not a far deduction to guess how the pitch meeting for these guys went. Here, let me re-create it for you!
“Hey Tim, we need some kind of bird monster. You got anything?”
“Hm… How about a man… but he’s a big bird? Like Hawkman, except… less man, more hawk.”
“Tim, you’re a genius! Let’s go get a beer!”
I don’t hate them, don’t get me wrong. I think they look cool! But in comparison to some of the other monsters in this book, the Aarakocra are lacking in creativity. I mean, come on! The Aboleth is literally the next page over!
Stats and Abilities: Summon a What Now?!
Armor Class: 12
Hit Points: 13 (3d8)
Speed: 20 ft., fly 50 ft.
Actions: Dive Attack, Talon and Javelin
Perception +5, Passive Perception 15
Languages: Aarokocra, Auran
I’d say that it’s fitting that a really low level monster would be the first one in the book. But again: the Aboleth is right fucking next to him. So I guess that point is kind of mute, huh?
As a threat, the Aarakocra are far from the greatest in the Monster Manual. The most powerful attack they have is their javelin, which only does a single D6 with an incredibly small modifier. Even if they added the extra D6 from their dive attack, these guys are still far from a threat, even to the lowest level party. There’s a reason they only give you 50 XP for killing one.
However, they do have one ability that is rather… frightening for a low level group. See, if you get five of these birds in the same place, thirty feet from each other specifically, they can summon something a little… bigger. A far more intimidating monster: an Air Elemental.
Did you ever try the Rain Dance when you were a kid? Y’know, when the day was really hot and you just wanted something to cool it down? Yeah, these guys do that. Only difference is: instead of summoning a nice cloud, or looking like a dumb ass on the playground, they summon a mother fucking Elemental that will kick the fucking shit out of you!
Don’t fuck with the bird man. They’ve got friends in high places. Quite literally, in this case.
This one ability could make a fight with the Aarakocra turn from a simple and easy scuttle to an intense life-or-death explosion of conflict! Though it should definitely be used sparingly. A low-level party should never be set against something as powerful as an Elemental of any variety.
Unless you really want to ensure you’ll never be the Dungeon Master again.
Conclusion: Fly, Big Ass Birdies
The Aarakocra are fine monsters. They have some interesting lore and their summoning ability could make for some creative encounters. However, they’re dragged down by their simple and underwhelming design, as well as their stats. In terms of a threat, these guys are hardly much, even for a low-level party.
Unless, of course, they decide to phone a friend.
They’re not the worst monster in the Manual, but they’re far from the best. They’re interesting and fun, but hardly a threat. They sit firmly in the middle of the pack, above the less interesting and below the more intimidating.
Regardless, they make for a strong start to Best of the Bestiary! And guess what: we’re only going up from here! Because next week, I get to talk about one of my favorite monsters: the Aboleth!
This was the best choice I’ve ever made.