Wandering Monsters: Birdmen

I guess the voting majority do not ever want to see either the hollyphant or opinicus in Dungeons & Dragons ever again. Not only am I fine with that, but I could also stand to see some of the game's equally unexciting bird-men candidates likewise go the way of the dodo.

My only mental image of the aarakocra is the one from 2nd Edition's Monstrous Manual, and is actually the only edition that I recall seeing them in, though a quick Google search reveals that they were in 3rd Edition's Monsters of Faerunwhich could explain why I do not remember themand Dark Sun Creature Catalog.

I do not get what is appealing about them, despite the description of their feet "unlocking and folding back to reveal hands" making me think of a potential Beast Wars candidate.

Though they usually come with guns and/or swords.
I would lose the hands-in-feet. Do they even need a set of hands? Why not just give them wings and talons; they could drop rocks, I guess, or even swoop down on creatures, picking them up before dropping them from a great height. That would certainly add something to a battle. I would also give them a variety of beak-types depending on geographic location, so in the mountains they might have a hawk-like beak, parrot for jungles, and vulture for desert.

As for flavor I would, by default, make them the creations of some kind of bird-like deity as opposed to a pact with djinn. The pact could still work in some cases, providing a reason for aarakocra on other planes, or even in a more fantastic, isolated city within the desert.

They can still have a connection to air elementals, but I would make them capable with wind-themed magic, which could include nature magic, divine magic, or sorcerer-esque arcane magic. I could even see a case for warlocks. They would live on cliffs and have a fairly technologically-primitive culture. Alignment-wise I would go with Neutral, but due to their xenophobic nature might attack travelers in order to frighten them off. 

Both the tag- and punchline for dire corbies is "underground birds whose wings turned into arms".

In its defense, I was at least aware that the aarakocra existed before the tail-end of 4th Edition. I heard mention of dire corbies shortly after the release of Neverwinter Campaign Setting, which some people were apparently excited about, and as with the aarakocra I have to wonder why. After all there are already plenty of humanoid races dwelling in the Underdark as it is, were we really missing one with a bird's head?

Nope, still not doing it.
If I had to include them I would change them so that they were aarakocra that, long ago, were enslaved and gradually changed by mind flayers. To me this sounds better than linking them to drow, and gives you a way to link them with the aforementioned wind-themed magic (which could be particularly devastating in cavernous tunnels). Even better, you could give them mutations and psionics.

If you wanted to associate them with Pazuzu, I would keep their wings, take them out of the Underdark, and just make them evil mirrors of aarakocra. Throw on some demonic traits to better distinguish them and you are good to go.

Now I know some people are upset at James for pretty much only grudgingly acknowledging that gyerians are a thing, but I am inclined to agree given that, near as I can tell, they are mostly halfling-sized birdettes that possibly served as the inspiration for Lil' Sneezer from Tiny Toons. I mean, even the dire corby made it into another edition. 

Though they both look equally silly.
It is...different I guess, but unlike its devastating allergies it is severely underwhelming, even if you are only mining it for comedic value. I cannot even recommend associating them with wind-things, since that seems to be the aarakocra's shtick.

I have actually used kenkus before in both 3rd and 4th Edition, and even rolled up a few 4th Edition characters. Given their bird-like appearance (though raven would be more appropriate), voice mimicry, and rogue-oriented mechanics I would associate them with some kind of trickster deity. If you wanted to make them Fey, then a raven spirit would be more fitting, though I do not think it is necessary.

As a quick aside I find it odd that they are pegged as Neutral, despite favoring kidnapping as a source of revenue. That sounds distinctly Chaotic to me, maybe even a bit Evil depending on how far they are willing to go. I think it is fine for some groups of kenku, particularly those in an urban setting, but then I tend to dislike global alignment association.

I have not yet used tengu, but I fully plan to in an oriental campaign I am working on. I would divide tengu into two camps, with the humanoid ones as the chaotic variety and the crow-headed ones as the bad guys.

Humanoid tengu could be sought after as skilled warriors, serving as prerequisites for certain fighter maneuvers or prestige classes. What about "Tengu Training" as a background perk? They could also forge magical swords (and be a source of magic fans), or at least guard them/know their location. Warriors who fail them or earn their disrespect might be cursed with long noses or ears until they redeem themselves.

Crow tengu wander the land, killing with impunity, though sometimes stop for a bit to conquer a village and torment the inhabitants. They might be the malicious ghosts of warriors that were finally slain, or even some kind of spirit (perhaps the spiritual manifestation of a cruel samurai's sword). Okami describes them as the spirit of a dead samurai that possessed a crow, though they retain a sense of honor.

Nagpas are kind of like driders in that the curse that transforms them has many beneficial side-effects, including a strict allotment of several spell-like abilities, and a staff that for some reason works better for them that also functions as a ring of spell storing. I wonder why more curses do not come with benefits packages?

"For my selfish nature I was rewarded with more power."
Okay, okay, it is not all good. According to the Ecology section they cannot "eat, sleep, laugh, reproduce, or take part in any other activity enjoyed by living humans". This is preceded by a bit in Habitat/Society where they can for some reason detect anyone within 100 miles that is talking about them; they track them down, are "immediately kill by the nagpa" in an unspecified manner, who then feels a combination of "guilt, remorse, relief, and joy".

I am all for a curse, but I think that it should only have a downside and not be contradictory. Why does it give them spells? Why does it give them a bitchin' staff? How can they feel joy or relief, which is something that humans tend to enjoy? Why is this only applicable to mages? Would not a better curse be to prevent them from using magic, or worse, learning more? Like, they are stuck with just a taste, but are unable to master more advanced arts.

A good idea might also be to associate them with Pazuzu. He might curse wizards that messed up while in service, or just dared to even attempt communication. A fitting mark.

Near as I can tell raptorans were designed specifically to make a race that could fly, and that is not enough to warrant their continued existence in my book, especially when they tread on the ground of other, similar creatures. The whole Walk of the Four Winds is pretty silly, serving to justify raptoran adventurers, as is their pact for flight that they cannot even utilize reliably until 10th level.


  1. Personally, I prefer Raptorans to Aarakocra, if only because the name is easier to read and pronounce. I say combine the two and use Raptorans as the general name and maybe Aarakocra for a specific subset.

    I've used kenku and tengu in our games, often as setting details, but a few make appearances. I treat them as different names for the same thing, however, and try to tie them closer to their roots. The more enlightened, powerful, and intelligent ones have a human appearance, while the ignorant and less powerful appear as crows.

    Neither dire corbies or nagpas strike me as interesting. It doesn't help that I've never heard of them prior to this Wandering Monsters.

  2. The only ones I've ever heard of before reading this post are Corbies and Kenkus. I only heard of them from their presence in Legend of Drizzt and Monster Manual 2, respectively.

  3. I agree that raptoran is easier to use, but I think that there is a meaningful camp that will want to stay with aarakocra /because/.

    Out of the entire roster, the only ones I particularly care about are kenku and tengu, though the aarakocra has potential. Everything else...meh.


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