You are proficient with your unarmed strikes, which deal 1d4 slashing damage on a hit.

Do talons just deal 1d4, or is the relevant ability modifier added too?


4 Answers 4


You add your Strength bonus to any melee weapon damage you do unless a rule specifically states otherwise.

As per the rules on what Strength does for you:

You add your Strength modifier to your attack roll and your damage roll when attacking with a melee weapon [...]

In the original printings of the rules, unarmed strikes were a weapon with an entry on the PHB's table of weapons. However, they were removed from this table by errata, and instead the rules for melee attacks state that:

Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike: a punch, kick, head-butt, or similar forceful blow (none of which count as weapons). On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier. You are proficient with your unarmed strikes.

This means that unarmed strikes are not, technically, an "attack with a melee weapon", but they are a "melee weapon attack". The following rules about damage rolls unfortunately also use the "attack with a weapon" wording:

When attacking with a weapon, you add your ability modifier--the same modifier used for the attack roll--to the damage.

Which strictly rules out the unarmed strike. However, Sage Advice rules that when you make a melee weapon attack, by default you add your strength to the attack roll and to damage. This general rule is always in effect unless it is explicitly overruled by something else:

For example, if you make a melee weapon attack with a longsword, you add your Strength modifier to the attack and damage rolls of the attack. [...]

[...] In other words, you follow the general rule until an exception in the game tells you not to.

The Aarakocra's unarmed strike doesn't explicitly include the Strength modifier, but it also doesn't explicitly exclude it. Additionally, other races with modified unarmed strikes published in later material, such as the Tabaxi, do specify that the unarmed strike damage still includes the character's strength modifier, and the implementation of Aarakocra on the official companion site dndbeyond.com includes the strength modifier to damage.

Though the actual letter of the published rules is not as clear as it could be, the most consistent interpretation of the material is that Aarakocra should still include their strength modifier on unarmed strikes, and it is an oversight that such was not included in their description. The Elemental Evil Player's Companion has never had errata published, but one imagines if it did this would have been corrected so as to be unambiguous.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ But unarmed strikes aren't melee weapons. They can be used to make melee weapon attacks, but they very explicitly aren't weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwodder
    Nov 5, 2019 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jwod The sage advice compendium speaks to this directly and the chart on its page 10 confirms all melee weapon attacks use a modifier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Nov 6, 2019 at 9:54

They do 1d4 + Strength mod damage

The rule for weapon damage states:

When attacking with a weapon, you add your ability modifier—the same modifier used for the attack roll—to the damage.

It is important to note that unarmed strikes are not weapons though they are used to make melee weapon attacks. If they're not weapons, one might think they don't obey the rule stating you add your ability modifier to weapon attacks.

However, in the 2015 errata that removed unarmed strikes from the weapon table, the writers also baked the general rule for adding the ability modifier into the rule for unarmed strike damage directly:

On a hit, an unarmed strike deals bludgeoning damage equal to 1 + your Strength modifier.

Page 10 of the official Sage Advice Compendium has since been updated to confirm that all melee weapon attacks (ie, regardless of whether they are made with a weapon or an unarmed strike) have their attack and damage rolls modified by an ability stat modifier (strength by default). This is found under “How do I know which ability modifier to use with an attack roll and its damage roll?”

An aarakocra's talons are used to make unarmed strikes but they have the unique quality of using 1d4 instead of just 1 for the base damage. The strength modifier is then added to the base damage of the attack as normal for 1d4 + strength mod net damage.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So would you say other things including the modifier is redundant / not necessary? For example the Minotaur: 'When you hit with them, the target takes piercing damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier" and also the Tabaxi: "If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to 1d4 + your Strength modifier" \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2019 at 20:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @med I think the writers may be attempting to clarify which modifier (str or dex) to use in these cases as much as reminding the player that the modifier is used. Of note, Minotaur horns are "natural weapons" and are not used to make unarmed strikes wheras Tabaxi claws are. It's so dang messy but in either case, weapon or unarmed strike, it seems fairly clear that the intent is for the attacker to add a str or dex modifier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Nov 5, 2019 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then at least the Centaur's are (I had not realized the Minotaur's were not): "Your hooves are natural melee weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes." \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2019 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Sage Advice Compendium's answer to "How do I know which ability modifier to use with an attack roll and its damage roll?" indicates that the ability modifier is added to both attack and damage rolls of all "melee weapon attacks" (which unarmed strikes are). Crawford also unofficially tweeted in May 2016: "When making a weapon attack, you add your ability modifier to the damage, unless a feature tells you not to.", further supporting your conclusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 6, 2019 at 7:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @v2b Great find! In fact, I feel kind of stupid now for not checking sage advice lol. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Rykara
    Nov 6, 2019 at 9:49

Optionally, the Aarakocra, like many small but quick monsters, is listed as a monster with its Dexterity modifying its claw attacks, i.e. its natural attack is effectively a finesse weapon. Either way, the relevant ability modifier is added to the attack. Check with your DM as to whether that is Strength, or Dexterity, or your choice.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ In this case, since the quoted text specifically is from the player character option (You are proficient with your unarmed strikes"), the numbers given in the Monster Manual are irrelevant. Monsters operate by different rules than PCs, and in this case, have a range of ability scores that can be pre-figured. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2017 at 6:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Monsters don't necessarily operate by different rules than PCs; the monster designs follow the same rules most of the time. Saying that "you are proficient with your unarmed strikes" does not preclude those strikes possibly being Dex based; it could still be either. I would allow either, based on the fact that the entire rest of his race uses Dex as the relevant stat for their unarmed strikes. As I noted, he should check with his DM. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2017 at 7:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'd personally call that an oversight and rule that the Aarakocra's claws are finesse weapons. It is hardly a game-breaking alteration by any stretch of the imagination. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Sep 10, 2017 at 8:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Players and monsters do operate by different rules. Monster stat blocks have no relevance to a player race, even if they both represent the same in-world race. What you suggest isn't game-breaking, but you're making the issue even more confusing by suggesting house rules. False equivalences are one of the most common sources of incorrect rulings. (Case in point, the answer says "its natural attack is effectively a finesse weapon", but using DEX doesn't make something a finesse weapon; are you suggesting Aaracokra can Sneak Attack with their claws?) \$\endgroup\$
    – Doval
    Sep 10, 2017 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Aaracokra, as posited in the question is not a monster, as you suggest in your answer. It is a PC race option. PCs are not monsters by the game's definitions. An elf is a monster if it is not a PC. PC versions of races presented in the monster manual have different abilities than those presented in the PHB or VG. To use one as a guide for the other is a mistake. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2017 at 16:04

No, it's a flat 1d4.

The rule that normally adds ability modifiers to damage rolls, as stated on page 196 of the PHB, reads (emphasis as in original):

When attacking with a weapon, you add your ability modifier — the same modifier used for the attack roll — to the damage.

As stated numerous times in the Sage Advice Compendium, unarmed strikes are not weapons. (They are melee weapon attacks, but that's not relevant here.) Thus, no ability modifier is added to an Aarakocra's unarmed strikes.

Note: I'm not 100% clear on the timeline, but it appears that, when the Aarakocra race was first published in the EEPC, the PHB still classified unarmed strikes as weapons that dealt 1 damage. If this is true, then, at the time, an Aarakocra's talons would have dealt 1d4 + Str mod damage.

However, when errata later removed the unarmed strike from the weapons table and defined its damage to be 1 + Str mod, the Aarakocra was apparently overlooked, and so its Talons ability changed from replacing 1 with 1d4 to replacing 1 + Str mod with 1d4.

In the absense of any errata updating the race, there is no reason to copy the Strength modifier from the unarmed strike's default damage and apply it to the Aarakocra's unarmed strike; rules do just what they say they do, and the Aarakocra's rules say that its unarmed strike deals exactly 1d4 damage, no Str mod.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Try making one on DND Beyond. It will show 1d4+ Strength mod. I know there are bugs but that has been like that for years and it is the closest to an official character creator we have. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2019 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your timeline is correct, as I remember it. (I still have the PHB I bought a month before EEPC was released, and it's pre-(first)errata. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Nov 5, 2019 at 23:19

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