Can an aarakocra player character grapple using their feet?

I've gotten into debates on this subject. Some (including myself) say that it should be possible to do. However, most - if not all - of the DMs I play with disagree. They state that a fly speed of 50 feet is game-breaking as it is, and that being able to grapple using their feet is too overpowered, as no other race is able to do such a thing and it's not given as a mechanical option (e.g. in the Talons trait).

The grappling rules also state that you must use a free hand, but creatures such as the harpy don't have such a restriction.

With aarakocra being part-bird, I feel it's a safe assumption to say it's possible while still having the other restrictions of a normal grapple, except that both hands are left free. To me (and a few others), it seems that with aarakocra being part-bird, it should come as a second nature of sorts, especially compared to earlier editions when their hands and wings took the same space.

I haven't found a ruling stating that they can't, but also none that say they can. A friend of mine has always had a houserule (which I then stole) that a grapple can be done even without a "free hand" if you have a way to restrict the target (like turning into a snake and coiling around them). I know some things can go unexplained and left open to interpretation in the rules, so I wanted to know if this was a special case allowed by the official rules or not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like it's something you want to be true, even though deep down you know it isn't, and want people on the internet to justify your houserule to you so you can attempt to convince other DMs. A better question might be asking what the balance implications would be for houseruling what you want, rather than trying to find evidence for something that doesn't exist. \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Mar 29, 2020 at 10:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ yes! I had this in mind for the PC race, and I will admit, its some thing I do want to be true, even though in my heart of hearts I know it wont be, though im not to concerned if it isnt, always been a houserule of a friends (which I then stole) that a grapple can be done if you have a way to restrict them (like turning into a snake and pulling a coil type deal) but starting on houserules like that could have spoiled me, and I know some things can go unexplained and left open to interpretation, which is for the most part why I was asking, just to see if it was a special case or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – squid
    Mar 29, 2020 at 11:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like what you're really asking is "Can an Aarakocra pick up enemies and fly away, in order to abduct them, drop them, or otherwise mess with them?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Mar 29, 2020 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


Feet cannot be used for grappling

You've answered your own question. The grappling rules state that you must use a free hand (PHB p.195), and the aarakocra does not have more than the usual two hands. There is no "ruling" stating explicitly that they can't use their feet, because the default grappling rules already make clear that this isn't an option. This is a case where any rules support would have to come from a specific exception to the general rule; and at the moment, such an exception does not exist.

Would a house-ruled exception be balanced?

It's hard to say, but I'd lean towards "no." The sole fact that you could grapple with your hands full is powerful, but probably not game-breaking. But aarakocra already have powerful options for grappling that are not available to the average character.

The difficulty comes from the fact that a fly speed opens the opportunity to grapple, fly up (at half speed,) and then drop the target, resulting in 2d6 bludgeoning damage plus the prone condition. This is a straight improvement over the shove special melee attack, and a particularly strong one, at that. Being able to do this with your hands full is far from negligible. In other words, even if were balanced to allow (for example) the kenku to do this with their bird-like feet, the aarakocra's already enhanced ability to grapple means that anything that makes grappling easier for them is likely to have a greater impact on their strategy and effectiveness.

In short, there is no RAW support for being able to grapple with your feet, and it's powerful enough that giving the ability to do so on a house-rule could lead to problems. To be clear, the aarakocra can still grapple using its hands, the same as any other player race. It can even do so while flying, as its arms are separate from its wings.

If you'd like to experiment with this, I'd suggest making it a custom feat, perhaps along the lines of Tavern Brawler (giving this ability along with very minor additional benefits.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth noting that in 5e, an aarakocra's wings are separate from their arms, as shown in the EEPC's official art for the race. (The D&D Beyond page for the race seems to currently use the art from the Monster Manual instead; it's apparently intentional (for whatever reason), but in any case, it's a second example of the wings being separate.) As Mark Wells guesses in a comment on the question, OP may not have realized that fact when they asked the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Mar 31, 2020 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I'm not a 5e guy, but that's what confused me about this. Illustrations seem to depict the 5e aarakocra as a creature with 6 limbs and 2 hands, and flying takes 2 limbs and grappling takes a third (one with a hand). So it seems that an aarakocra can already do what this answer describes: grab and drop. The reason it would want to grapple with its feet is either that it looks cool or so that it can continue to carry its own stuff in both its hands or to use a greatsword or whatever against the grappled foe. Is the art wrong? Are the rules for this not mentioned in this Q&A? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2020 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ The aarakocra can already do that. I was trying to emphasize that doing all that in addition to having both of its hands full is even more powerful than a non-flying race getting to grapple with its hands full. In other words, even if this is a safe house-rule for, say the kenku (which also are quite bird-like,) it might not be for the aarakocra. I will try to rephrase to make that more clear. \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Mar 31, 2020 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan To be really clear, the aarakocra isn't prevented from grappling while flying by lack of hands (or else it would be prevented from doing lots of things, like holding weapons). It's very likely that a DM will see you grab-and-drop someone once, and then say "That's cute, now let's talk about encumbrance in flight." \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Mar 31, 2020 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I am not trying to comment in this answer on whether the RAW grappling options available to the aarakocra are balanced. Mark's assertion that they shouldn't be allowed by the DM is reasonable, but as far as I know not supported in the 5e rules. The only assertion I'm making regarding power level is that the aarakocra's already powerful RAW grapple options make any additional buffs to its grappling ability highly suspect. \$\endgroup\$
    – 1600hp
    Mar 31, 2020 at 23:54

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