DnD 5e - The Aarakocra Handbook
Last Updated: November 18th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Aarakocra did a lot of things first. They're the first entry in the Monster Manual. They're the first playable race in 5e that could be considered an anthromorph (an animal person). They're the first playable race with flight. They're the first race banned from Adventurer's League. All exciting stuff.
Mechanically, Aarakocra are frustratingly bland. They get ability score increases, flight, and talons. That's all. No fun active abilities, no proficiencies, nothing. They're a flying stat block. You play an Aarakocra either because you want to be a flying bird person or because you want flight at first level and don't particularly care where it comes from.
Despite this blandness, Aarakocra are extremely powerful for a variety of builds. Dexterity and Wisdom is an excellent combination of ability score increases, and racial flight is insanely powerful, especially at a whopping 50 ft. of fly speed. If you use the Customizing Your Origins optional rules to rearrange the ability increases, that's a great starting point for nearly any class.
Before we look at class options, I want to take a moment to explain exactly why flight is such a big deal. In many encounters, it's a guaranteed win condition. Armed with a ranged weapon and sufficient ammunition (or a good cantrip like Eldritch Blast), a flying humanoid can eventually kill anything that can't find a way to get full cover. The flyer can easily chase enemies around above ground and wear them down while safely well out of the defender's range unless the defender can also fly. Even in enclosed spaces like a dungeon, a high ceiling can easily put the flying creature well out of their enemies' reach. Most creatures in the monster manual lack a method to counter the simple issue of an enemy being 5 feet too high for the monster to attack them.
To summarize: Aarakocra can fly directly above most of the monster manual and kill the monster regardless of CR solely because they can fly.
Classes (Customizable Origins)
This section assumes that you're using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you're not using those rules, scroll down to the next section.
+2 int, +1 con, and flight in up to medium armor. Flight puts you safely out of range of the majority of enemies, reducing the need for you to dump spells and infusions into items to raise your AC and to get access to flight. Subclasses like the Armorer (especially with Infiltrator armor) and the Alchemist both make sense, but the Battle Smith's pet can't fly and neither can the Artillerist's canons.
+2 str, +1 con, and flight. The Barbarian is locked into melee, which dramatically reduces the usefulness of flight.
+2 cha, +1 dex or con, and flight. Do all the normal bard things from the comfort of 10-30 ft. above the fray.
+2 wis, +1 con, and flight. Go for a caster domain and remain safely out of range while raining divine wrath on your enemies.
+2 wis, +1 con, and flight without relying on Wild Shape to get it. Avoid Circle of the Moon and Circle of Spores, but otherwise you'll do great.
+2 dex, +1 con, and flight. Grab a bow and go nuts.
+2 dex, +1 con or wis, and flight. Being locked into melee can be a problem since it reduces the benefits of flight, but you can spend Ki to Disengage and fly out of range whenever you feel the need, or you could try to get the Mobile feat.
The Aarakocra's flight speed is affected by Unarmored Movement, so your already impressive 50 ft. flight speed continues to improve as you gain levels, making an Aarakocra monk among the fastest creatures in the game (at least in terms of speed; actual maximum movement gets messy).
+2 str, +1 con or cha, and flight. Paladins, like barbarians, are mostly locked into melee. You could build a Charisma-heavy build thanks to Fighting Style (Blessed Warrior) to build around cantrips and spellcasting, but at that point why not just play a cleric or a divine soul sorcerer?
+2 dex, +1 con, and flight. Grab a bow and go nuts.
+2 dex, +1 whatever else you need, and flight. You could certainly fight at range, but melee works great too. Thanks to Cunning Action you can Disengage as a Bonus Action and perform easy hit-and-run attacks from the air.
+2 cha, +1 con, and flight. Free flight saves you a precious spell known and keeps you at a safe distance right from level 1.
+2 cha, +1 con, and flight. Free flight saves you limited resources, and keeps any non-melee build at a safe distance. Melee hexblades should look elsewhere.
+2 int, +1 con, and flight. Free flight saves you some spell slots, which is really nice.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you're not using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
Aside from flight, the Aarakocra brings nothing to the Artificer.
Flight is always great, but barbarian is a poor choice for aarakocra. The emphasis on remaining in melee combat takes away the aarakocra's biggest advantage: mobility.
Flight can be really great for a bard that plans to use weapons like a Valor or Swords, but that's the only thing that the Aarakocra brings to the bard.
Dexterity and a bit of Wisdom are great for a lightly-armored Cleric, and flight is always fantastic.
The Aarakocra works really well as a druid. Dexterity will help fill out your AC in druid-friendly armor, and Wisdom will help with your spells. Flight means that you don't need to spend your limited wild shape uses to turn into a bird, so you can save them for more useful things like fighting.
Fighters really like races with a great stat line and few frills, so the Aarakocra is a great fit. Dexterity is ideal for an archery build, but if you want to be in melee you'll want to use finesse weapons. Flight solves a lot of problems for fighters since they typically need to rely on party members or magic items whenever an enemy is out of reach.
It's hard to think of a better option for monk than the Aarakocra. Dexterity and flight line up perfectly, and flight is a massive boon for a class that's almost completely locked into melee combat. Better still, your flight speed is affected by Unarmored Movement, so your already impressive 50 ft. flight speed continues to improve as you gain levels, making an Aarakocra monk among the fastest creatures in the game (at least in terms of speed; actual maximum movement gets messy).
You could make a dexterity-based paladin work, and flight is always amazing, but the Aarakocra offers very little of value for the Paladin.
Likely an even better option for aarakocra archers than the Fighter, the Ranger makes good use of both of the Aarakocra's ability score increases, and still gets the Archery fighting style to capitalize on the Aarakocra's superior mobility at range.
Flight is a fantastic tool for a class so dependent on surprise. Sure, there are less places to hide in the air, but you can easily avoid things like pressure plates, trip wires, and leaving footprints by flying. Oh, and you get a Dexterity increase.
Aside from flight, the Aarakocra brings nothing to the Sorcerer.
Aside from flight, the Aarakocra brings nothing to the Warlock.
Aside from flight, the Aarakocra brings nothing to the Wizard.
Aarakocra don't have any racial feats. I mostly just want to call out Mobile.
A fantastic solution for melee builds that don't want to give up the advantages of flight whenever they get into melee. Move in to attack, then fly away with your 60 ft. fly speed. Mobile's bonus speed applies to any natural movement type that you have, which includes your fly speed.