DnD 5e - The Aarakocra Handbook
Last Updated: August 24th, 2018
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: 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.
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.
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. So, to summarize: Aarakocra can fly directly above most of the monster manual and kill the monster regardless of CR solely because they can fly.
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.