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Earlier versions of D&D had illustrations in which aarakocra did not have both arms and wings. Instead, their hands were akin to those of bats, with fingers part way along their wings. Yet in 5e, the illustrations for aarakocra picture them with arms that are independent of their wings.

Nothing in the text I've seen adjudicates on this question, though I've only read what's in Elemental Evil Player's Companion.

The mechanical implication concerns whether aarakocra can attack with weapons (other than talons) while airborne. Or use a shield.

Answers to the shield question on this site seem to assume the independence of arms and wings in 5e. Is this simply a change in the illustration or are there explicit/implicit reasons to think that aarakocra can wield weapons/shields while flying?

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https://www.dndbeyond.com/races/aarakocra

If you look at the image, plain common sense indicates that the arms move independently of the wings. The wings aren't even attached at the shoulders, but right behind the shoulders, further reinforcing this.

Also, the arms clearly end in hands that look like hands, and the legs clearly end in feet that look like talons. So from the image, common sense tend to indicate that they hold their weapons in their hands, and do their talons attacks with their feet.

Now, if you look at the flavor text, several things point to the fact that they should not have too much problem striking with held in hands weapons while also flying:

They hail from a world beyond — from the boundless vistas of the Elemental Plane of Air.

Making denizens of the Plane of Air have extra-sub-par flying capabilities would go a bit contrary to the overall general principle that "it comes from another plane = it's better".

Nowhere are the aarakocra more comfortable than in the sky.

If they could attack only when standing on the ground, not while they are flying, then that would kind of directly contradict that sentence.

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.

This very clearly states that they can attack with weapons while flying. Diving is still a form of flight, it is not like "falling".

Finally, look at the Aarakocra traits:

They gain Flight 50 feet, and that trait specifies that they can't be wearing medium or heavy armor. Nothing is said about a limitation on weapons, so there is no such limitation. Just like a Wizard casting Fly, is able to fight with weapons while flying, so too it is the exact same thing here.

In fact, apart from the obvious stat increase, Flight is really their only trait worth anything at all. And on land they move slower than most normal races! As for the Talons trait, that merely gives them competence with Unarmed Strikes, for a measly d4. But Talons doesn't give them a bonus attack at all. Almost every other form of attack will deal more damage. It's like a sickle that cannot be Disarmed, nothing more.

Also, if using overall D&D 5e game design logic: Equivalent features are not epic for some PCs, yet extra-gritty sauce for others. Aarakocras natural flight already pales in performance comparison to the Fly spell (slower, armor-type limited, self-only), but is overall better than Fly because it does not need spell slots or Concentration. But forcing Aarakocras to have to choose between flying or striking with weapons, that would seem quite a too steep penalty and make them very unfairly balanced. Or even comparing an Aarakocra, a natural born flier, to a paladin riding a pegasus: the paladin can strike while controlling his mount, so obviously the Aaracokra should be able to do the same too.

Forget previous D&D Editions. These new Aarakocras are just better. Also, much more fun to play that way as a player. More heroic, more adventurer-like, and less "beast-like".

However, unlimited flight, especially at low levels, can break a lot of encounters. Outside, just pepper your foes from way above with arrows. Inside, you can bypass 99% of traps (unless magic is so hyper-abundant that even at level 1 most traps are magical). But really this race has one thing and one thing only, so it should be at least a quite good ability.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In my own campaigns however, all flight has 2 rules, making any flying need a lot of room to maneuver: Wing span & turning power. Wingspan is: flier needs 5 times it's width to maneuver ok, and 3 times it's width for "squeezing in tight spaces" flying movement. Passing through a short-length 1-width hole needs Acrobatics. Turning power is: Without using Acrobatics, a flier needs to move 2x his own width to be able to turn 45 degrees. Thus, an eagle needs 20 ft diameter to fly in circles. A human wizard needs a 40 ft circle. Forget flying in cramped spaces! Fly stupidly = get hurt! \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Sep 18 '20 at 8:06
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Yes, they have both arms and wings.

  1. What previous editions state has no impact whatsoever on 5e.
  2. With that in mind, nothing indicates that they don't have arms and wings, and their illustrations in the EE Player's Companion, page 4, and the MM, page 12, shows them with both.
  3. Their statblock in the MM includes a "Dive Attack" and a "Javelin". Nothing states that they cannot dive attack and attack with their javelin, which would require hands and wings. Or at least, I can't imagine diving with your wings and simultaneously wielding a weapon with them (at least not without disadvantage).
  4. Aarakocra would be severely unbalanced as a player race if they did not have regular arms.
  5. Having 2 regular arms is the default case. If they did not have normal arms in addition to their wings, this would be explicitly stated.

Overall, I think it's rather clear that they do indeed have both arms and wings.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your number 3, they could be holding their weapon in their feet (basically what Miniman said to the other answer), as shown in the vulture picture of the accepted answer to my question. The rest I agree with, though. Also, for your number 2, there's also the parrot aarakocra from ToA, pg. 12. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 6 '19 at 11:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS looking at the illustration in EE, page 4, I find it hard to imagine that they would wield a weapon in their talons. Sure, an unarmed strike works very well, but wielding a weapon? Meh. Sure they can carry it, but I'm not sure how proficient they would be with it. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Sep 6 '19 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hm, perhaps combined with the precedent you've set with number 2, perhaps the whole "feet" thing isn't really as much of a concern, since the images contradict that. Nevermind that point then. But still, the ToA thing strengthens number 2 further... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 6 '19 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ The official art is important, few creature descriptions tell you how many limbs they have. \$\endgroup\$ – John Sep 6 '19 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @John I thought of that previously, but then forgot it. I've now added that argument as point 5. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Sep 6 '19 at 13:18
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Yes, they have both

The details for the Aarakocra includes this text:

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.

There is nothing in their stat block saying they can't fly and use weapons at the same time.

Earlier versions of D&D are irrelevant, only the rules for 5th edition are relevant for 5th edition.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That doesn't really prove anything - they could be holding weapons with their feet. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 6 '19 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Please provide a link to the rules which state a creature can wield weapons using their feet. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Sep 6 '19 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ See, if you put the rules on weapons requiring hands in your answer, that would be great proof. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Sep 7 '19 at 0:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ From roll20.net/compendium/dnd5e/Combat#toc_39 A melee Attack typically uses a handheld weapon such as a sword, a Warhammer, or an axe. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Sep 7 '19 at 10:11
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They definitely have access to a pair of hands while flying.

The abstract way to think of is probably that they are using hands and arms.

In one earlier source (sorry I forget the reference) their claws were able to grasp and hold like hands and they had full arms, however in that version it claimed that their arms were bound to the wings when in flight and not otherwise usable until the wings are folded. I'm pretty sure that's what you saw.

Trying to picture holding my bow and drawing arrows with talons did not go well...

So I just assume usable hands and arms in flight which I'm sure it's what the playable 5e class intends.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you support your answer by citing relevant evidence? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 8 '19 at 3:36
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This image is from page 165 of Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (actual photo of hardcover sourcebook):

enter image description here

It clearly depicts a torso with both wings and fully functional arms wielding a spear in combat.

The same image appears in the pdf of Elemental Evil Player’s Companion:

enter image description here

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For reference, the same art is in the EEPC but flipped. (PixelMaster's answer references this art but doesn't include the image in the answer.) I can replace the picture with a cleaner image from D&D Beyond's EGtW compendium if you like - here's the image :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '20 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added that too. It’s meaningful to me to have an answer that cites a physical sourcebook here. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Aug 15 '20 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited the comment, but there's an image link in my comment from the EGtW compendium (not the EEPC version), which is identical to the physical book in this respect. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '20 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are the images found in the sourcebooks definitively canonical, in-universe pictures? \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Aug 15 '20 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I’d certainly hope so, at least for something like fundamental creaturely anatomy. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Aug 15 '20 at 17:57
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Human genesis was in Africa, yet Cherokee ect... are considered native to North America. A sapient race of birdmen, evolved from birds (4 limbs) could have moved to the plane of air in prehistory, and became natives. In that respect aarakocra are not made of, from, or in elemental air, but merely adopted it, like the Cherokee ect... adopted North America. Balance wise 4 limb aaracokra can't use handheld weapons while flying, but can attack with their feet. The same way human's feet are preoccupied while walking. Most vertebrate animals, including birds like aarakocra, have 4 limbs (not including tail). It makes no sense for aarakocra to have 6 limbs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. What "makes sense" to people may vary, but aarakocra definitely have separate wings and arms, as detailed in the other answers. Can you support your answer with anything other than your own speculation? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '20 at 17:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Makes no sense, and yet there they are \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 22 '20 at 13:51

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