Aarakocra Evoke Fear and Wonder
Sequestered in high mountains atop tall trees, the aarakocra, sometimes called birdfolk, evoke fear and wonder. Many aarakocra aren’t even native to the Material Plane. They hail from a world beyond-from the boundless vistas of the Elemental Plane of Air. They are immigrants, refugees, scouts, and explorers, their outposts functioning as footholds in a world both strange and alien.
Beak and Feather
From below, aarakocra look much like large birds. Only when they descend to roost on a branch or walk across the ground does their humanoid appearance reveal itself. Standing upright, aarakocra might reach 5 feet tall, and they have long, narrow legs that taper to sharp talons.
Feathers cover their bodies. Their plumage typically denotes membership in a tribe. Males are brightly colored, with feathers of red, orange, or yellow. Females have more subdued colors, usually brown or gray. Their heads complete the avian appearance, being something like a parrot or eagle with distinct tribal variations.
Nowhere are the aarakocra more comfortable than in the sky. They can spend hours in the air, and some go as long as days, locking their wings in place and letting the thermals hold them aloft. In battle, they prove dynamic and acrobatic fliers, moving with remarkable speed and grace, diving to lash opponents with weapons or talons before turning and flying away.
Once airborne, an aarakocra leaves the sky with reluctance. On their native plane, they can fly for days or months, landing only to lay their eggs and feed their young before launching themselves back into the air. Those that make it to a world in the Material Plane find it a strange place. They sometimes forget or ignore vertical distances, and they have nothing but pity for those earthbound people forced to live and toil on the ground.
The resemblance of aarakocra to birds isn’t limited to physical features. Aarakocra display many of the same mannerisms as ordinary birds. They are fastidious about their plumage, frequently tending their feathers, cleaning and scratching away any tiny passengers they might have picked up. When they deign to descend from the sky, they often do so near pools where they can catch fish and bathe themselves.
Many aarakocra punctuate their speech with chirps, sounds they use to convey emphasis and to shade meaning, much as a human might through facial expressions and gestures. An aarakocra might become frustrated with people who fail to pick up on the nuances; an aarakocra’s threat might be taken as a jest and vice versa.
The idea of ownership baffles most aarakocra. After all, who owns the sky? Even when explained to them, they initially find the notion of ownership mystifying.
As a result, aarakocra who have little interaction with other people might be a nuisance as they drop from the sky to snatch livestock or plunder harvests for fruits and grains. Shiny, glittering objects catch their eyes. They find it hard not to pluck the treasure and bring it back to their settlement to beautify it. An aarakocra who spends years among other races can learn to inhibit these impulses.
Confinement terrifies the aarakocra. To be grounded, trapped underground, or imprisoned by the cold, unyielding earth is a torment few aarakocra can withstand. Even when perched on a high branch or at rest in their mountaintop homes, they appear alert, with eyes moving and bodies ready to take flight.
Most aarakocra live on the Elemental Plane of Air. Aarakocra can be drawn into the Material Plane, sometimes to pursue enemies or thwart their foes’ designs there. Accident might also send a nest of aarakocra tumbling into a world on that plane. A few find their way to such a world through portals on their own plane and establish nests in high mountains or in the canopies of old forests.
Once tribes of aarakocra settle in an area, they share a hunting territory that extends across an area up to 100 miles on a side, with each tribe hunting in the lands nearest to their colony, ranging farther should game become scarce.
A typical colony consists of one large, open-roofed nest made of woven vines. The eldest acts as leader with the support of a shaman.
Aarakocra in the Forgotten Realms
Never well established in Faerûn, aarakocra have only four major colonies: in the Star Mounts within the High Forest, in the Storm Horns in Cormyr, in the Cloven Mountains on the Vilhon Reach, and in the Mistcliffs in Chult.
Those colonies established in the Star Mounts, closest to the Dessarin Valley, were ever a secretive and guarded people, only spotted during their flights over the High Forest. A cruel and rapacious green dragon nearly wiped out the population and scattered the survivors. These aarakocra and their descendants have sworn vengeance against the dragon and may be seen scouring the lands of the North and Cormyr for signs of their foe.
Their only remaining settlement lies on the slopes of the Star Mounts’ southernmost mountains. At the headwaters of the Unicorn Run, the Last Aerie is home to several dozen aarakocra. Recently, aarakocra elders detected changes in the prevailing winds that they regarded as a bad omen.
Unlike the aarakocra of other worlds on the Material Plane, the aarakocra of the Realms rarely travel to the Elemental Plane of Air.
Aarakocra enjoy peace and solitude. Most of them have little interest in dealing with other peoples and less interest in spending time on the ground. For this reason, it takes an exceptional circumstance for an aarakocra to leave his or her tribe and undertake the adventurer’s life. Neither treasure nor glory is enough to lure them from their tribes; a dire threat to their people, a mission of vengeance, or a catastrophe typically lies at the heart of the aarakocra adventurer’s chosen path.
Two other circumstances might call an aarakocra to adventure. First, aarakocra have historical ties to the Wind Dukes of Aqaa. Exceptional individuals honor that connection and might seek out the missing pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts, the remains of an artifact fashioned by the Wind Dukes long ago to defeat the Queen of Chaos’s monstrous champion, Miska the Wolf-Spider.
When plunged into Miska’s body, the chaos in his blood sundered the rod and scattered its pieces across the multiverse. Recovering the pieces means gaining honor and esteem in the eyes of the vaati who forged it and could possibly restore a powerful weapon for defense against the agents of elemental evil.
Second, aarakocra are sworn foes of elemental earth, in particular the gargoyles that serve Ogrémoch, the Prince of Earth. The Aarakocra word for gargoyle is loosely translated as “flying rock,” and battles between aarakocra and gargoyles have raged across the Elemental Planes of Earth and Air, occasionally spilling into a world on the Material Plane. Aarakocra on that plane might leave their colonies to lend aid to other humanoids committed to fighting earth cults and thwarting their efforts.
As with much of their speech, aarakocra names include clicks, trills, and whistles to the point that other peoples have a difficult time pronouncing them. Typically, a name has two to four syllables with the sounds acting as connectors. When interacting with other races, aarakocra may use nicknames gained from people they meet or shortened forms of their full names.
An aarakocra of either gender may have one of these short names: Aera, Aial, Aur, Deekek, Errk, Heehk, Ikki, Kleeck, Oorr, Ouss, Quaf, Quierk, Salleek, Urreek, or Zeed.
Backgrounds that are most appropriate for aarakocra include the outlander, the hermit, and the sage.
The small colonies of aarakocra are insular and remote, and few aarakocra live away from their roosts. In the Star Mounts of the High Forest in the Forgotten Realms, no more than a few dozen aarakocra live away from the nests of their families. Those that do are usually rangers or fighters, constantly patrolling for outside threats.