1 aarakocra (CR 1/4)
3-4 Eagles (CR 0)
Combat challenge 1
3 aarakocra (CR 1/4)
2 steam mephits* (CR 1/4)
* on a volcanic mountain
Combat challenge 2
3-4 aarakocra (CR 1/4)
1 hippogriff (CR 1)
Combat challenge 2
2 aarakocra (CR 1/4)
1 griffin (CR 2)
How to Use – Social Encounter
The Aarakocra are one of D&D’s good monster types. The purpose of their existence revolves around fighting evil. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to be friendly to the PC’s.
Perhaps They don’t trust the PC’s, and would rather they stay away from their village. Not every adventuring party is necessarily good, friendly, or trustworthy. Perhaps they don’t believe in the danger that the PC’s are fighting against, or don’t agree that the PC’s reasons for removing or claiming a treasure. However you choose to set it up, it is up to the PCs to persuade them.
There are two basic styles of handling interaction with NPC’s. Some DM’s leave it up to the players to come up with arguments, arguing that D&D is the most fun when players have the most freedom to make their own decisions and that dice rolls stifle creativity, others argue that the player’s don’t need to be punished for not being skilled at discussion, and that this lets them actually make use of their charisma scores and skills. (I’m not sure how many DMs go with rolling for social interaction, but I thought that it was a valid argument.)
Even if you’re leaving it up to the player’s arguments, I suggest figuring out beforehand which arguments the NPC’s will accept, and how much weight they’ll give to each argument. Also, approximately how many good reasons the players will have to give if they want to convince them. Make certain that the information needed in order to come up with the arguments is available to the players, and try to have several more prospective arguments available for the players to use than they will need. [Possible arguments in this case include: Proof as to the intents of the villains, reasons why the villains pose a danger to the Aarakocra, other dangers facing the Aarakocra [whether monsters, starvation, or anything else] and how co-operating with the PCs could help, the benefits that friendly relations with neighboring cities could bring them [provided the PCs are in a position to help bring this about,] and anything else you can think of.] It is entirely possible that the players will come up with an argument that you haven’t thought of, but having thought out the Aarakocra’s position will let you evaluate the persuasiveness of the argument a lot better than you would otherwise.
If you’re rolling for it, I would suggest that they still have to come up with a reason. Furthermore, you should add or subtract [say, up to five] from the dice roll based on how good the argument is. If they fail the first dice roll and then come up with another argument, instead of treating the next roll as an entirely new roll divide it be three and then add the result the previous dice roll. If this still doesn’t get them past the DC needed, at least let them know that they’re getting there, and that their arguments are having an impact. And don’t be afraid to overrule the roll and announce that they succeeded in persuading the Aarakocra if they’re getting too much bad luck. Finally, just like in the version without rolling, make certain that the arguments are available before you start.
A common problem that comes up in social encounters is the players forcing their opinion on the DM. They outnumber the DM four to one, and while the DM cares about what the players think, and whether they’re having fun, the reverse is rarely true. The DM is beholden to them. Arguments start to go in circles as instead of finding new arguments, they try to argue that their original argument was right and that you’re wrong. Eventually the DM just gives up and lets them win.
Don’t let this happen. The NPCs are in your hand, and there is no reason for them to want to listen to the same logic they already rejected either. As soon as the players start repeating themselves, have the NPC let them now that he already heard that and rejected it. If they have anything new to say he’s still willing to listen to them, but if not, he’s leaving. If they persist, the NPC leaves immediately [in the aarakocra’s case he just flies off.] If you don’t cut off their augments immediately, you will lose.
Problems with Aarakocra Allies
The common problem with any ally NPC is that the players expect them to go on the quests with them. If they’re on the same side, why don’t they help out?
I will say straight out that it isn’t as bad with the aarakocra as it is with most friendly monsters/NPCs. The aarakocra are fairly low level, and even a level 1 party can have 1-2 aarakocra added to the team without it making the players seem too weak. The problem with aarakocra is that they can fly. Flying is a mechanism that can break a low-level dungeon, and the adventurer’s guild bans using aarakocra as a player race for that reason.
Reasons for the aarakocra to be unable to accompany the PCs:
- The aarakocra need all their manpower elsewhere. Perhaps to defend the village against wild monsters, or perhaps they are being attacked by the villain, or fighting him in a different way. They could also be preoccupied with fighting a different villain, perhaps the enemy of the next campaign after your players win this one. Or perhaps they suffered a drought, or a manpower shortage, and they need every available hand to help grow/gather food.
- The aarakocra are extremely vulnerable when they’re not flying, and as such they won’t go anywhere that won’t allow them to fly. This includes forest, narrow canyons, indoors or underground. This also prevents them from traveling during bad weather, including fog, low clouds, or strong winds. And of course lightning storms. (It should be easy to introduce some urgency which makes it that the players can’t wait.)
- The simplest reason is that the aarakocra can’t match the players’ speed. Judging by combat speeds, they can’t walk anywhere near as fast as the players, and their flying speed is much greater. You can’t fly at half-speed, so they’d be forced to spend hours flying in circles above the players. This is exhausting.
The problem with this reason is translating it into the game. I suggest starting off with the aarakocra accompanying the characters, then the characters find a non-combat encounter such as a burned wagon. The wagon should have what to discover on a search, perhaps a clue to the campaign, and/or a treasure inside a chest locked with a puzzle lock (a possible puzzle is included at the end of this article.) By the time they’re done, it will seem that the aarakocra have traveled with them a reasonable amount of time, and they can’t really object when the aarakocra purpose to fly ahead so they can rest their wings, and then meet up with them tonight. Then they can fail to meet up. (If you can get the PCs to go indoors or into a thick forest for a bit, all the better. The aarakocra will have a valid excuse.)
One way to use aarakocra allies that is beneficial to the game is to use them as a means of delivering the news. Aarakocra’s flight allows them to meet up with the PCs as often as you’d like, and you can use it to keep the players updated on what is happening in the rest of the world. Many plots can benefit from setting up adventures and/or plot points in advance, and also from letting us see how the enemies plot is affecting the rest of the world negatively. This also gives you the ability to give the players a choice of paths to follow.
With all that said, don’t overdo it. The story belongs to your players, and should be focused on them.
Large Scale Combat
You can also use the aarakocra when you want a particularly big combat. Either have the aarakocra be keeping track of a large band of enemies that are near the PCs, or have the PCs discover the enemies and let them call on the alliance they made with the aarakocra. The aarakocra’s flight means that they are available to come to whatever place you want them, and then you can move the rest of the dungeon underground or bring out bad weather once you finish with the big battle.
The definition of big battle means that both sides have many troops. Handling this many troops slows down the combat immensely. What follows are a few tips.
For any battle where the players aren’t present, don’t run the entire battle. The players should help with planning strategy, of course, but in terms of running the battle you can choose to let the players only know what their characters should know, in which case they’ll find out the results and that’s it (this is ideal for when the other battle(s) is taking place at the same time as the PC’s battle. It’s also good for when the other battle is less important, such as a diversionary strike.)
If you want to do large scale warfare, I suggest building stat blocks for units (each stat block representing 25-50 soldiers.) Keep in mind that the unit running out of HP doesn’t mean that all the soldiers are dead, it means that the unit took enough damage to collapse, [typically about 20%.] If you play that amount of HP lost corresponds to the number of soldiers killed, then the first lost battle will be a game-ending massacre, and even a victorious battle will be a pyrrhic victory, where you lose so many troops you can’t carry on.
If you plan to use aarakocra [or other ally NPCs] on the same battlefield, here are three things I would suggest in order to streamline the NPCs part of the fight, the better to focus on your players’ part.
- When the players aren’t making an attack or being targeted, don’t roll for damage. Use average damage.
- Don’t roll for each attack made by the aarakocra [or against them] individually. Roll however many d20’s you need, and then decide which ones hit and which ones missed. (Aside from greatly speeding up this part of the fight, it will also give you more control. Don’t let the game you are playing against yourself distract you from the real game.)
- When you mess up, and don’t remember a number [for example: remaining HP] just make something up. Don’t slow down the game by agonizing over something that nobody else cares about.
And finally, if you’re not getting the results you want, just change them. Or make up the results you want in the first place. Being DM is about running a game for your players, and if you’re letting something get in the way of the players having a good time, you’re doing something wrong.
Combat Encounter (difficulty 3)
[I plan to try to include at least one combat encounter with every monster covered here, including the good alignment ones. What is an interesting way to use the aarakocra against the Pc’s?]
Let us say that the players were unable or uninterested in making peace with the aarakocra. Instead, they’re intruding on the aarakocra lands without permission.
The aarakocra live on mountains, so we’re probably talking about cliffs over and through the mountains. A lot of times, this is described as paths cut into the side of the mountain, with cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other.
This is an extremely good situation for the aarakocra, who can fly. I would start with a few quick attacks, in which 3-4 aarakocra fly at the Pc’s, throw their javelins, and fly away. [How many javelins do aarakocra carry? According to the monster manual, 2d4 [see the introduction.] I would go with two, one of which they throw and the other they save to use in melee, barring a strong need or opportunity. The aarakocra are only CR ¼, after all. Also, the javelin in the picture looks pretty big, and a flying race has more reason to care about weight than most people. Javelins are bigger than most people think.]
Hopefully after the first one or two attacks the players will start trying to figure out how to protect themselves against future attacks. If they can’t figure out a solution, you can let the aarakocra become more confident and attack them when they’re under an overhang or even inside a cave, giving the players more opportunities to cut off their retreat. Or you could make the path wider, so that they have to go above the path or at least next to it to get a clear shot at the players, giving the players more opportunity to react. Bushes could also help with this, or let the players set up an ambush.
Just don’t make what you’re doing too obvious. It’s up to you to give them opportunities, and up to the players to find ways to use them.
If the players do respond successfully, you can have the aarakocra intensify their tactics instead, hiding on top of the cliff above the Pc’s and then diving down so that the Pc’s have less time to react. If they’re inventive enough, they’ll find a solution to this also.
However it goes, I would end it after about three such attacks. [Exception. If the players have thought up an idea, and even some of them are excited about it, throw in one more attack so that they can use it.] It’s time for the main event.
At this point, the players have already gotten close to the aarakocra village. There’s no more time for short attacks. They have to make a stand.
Let’s use a bridge over a gap. At the end of the bridge is a CR2 beast, to give the melee fighters something to do. [I suggest using polar bear stats, but calling it a mountain bear. Alternatively, use a saber tooth tiger.] The aarakocra will rise up from under the bridge [no reason to put them there, but it seems suitably dramatic to me,] and will harry the players on the bridge. They won’t attempt to push them off, they’re proud warriors who don’t think that way,] but after they’ve used up their javelins, they can attack the players of their choice and it won’t be easy to block them.
I would also suggest that the bridge be difficult terrain, as it moves in the wind, and that some type of agility check be needed to get by other players when they’re on the bridge, especially if those other players are in the middle of fighting the aarakocra. (You should think about what happens if they do fall off the bridge.)
And if they win? Then they’ve achieved access to the aarakocra village and the aarakocra have no choice but to surrender. I’ll discuss how to handle the aarakocra surrender at the end of this article, but we have to other combat encounters to get through first.
Combat Encounter 2 (difficulty 2)
The ability of aarakocra to summon air elementals gives us another possible combat encounter.
I would start with having 7 aarakocra working together on the ritual. I know the monster manual says 5, but then as soon as one of them dies the ritual is interrupted. If you start with seven, you can make an argument that the extra two can complete the ritual even if one or two die.
You’ll start with the players reaching a wide shelf on the mountain just as they’re beginning the ritual. (You’ll want the players to know what the ritual does and how many rounds they have to stop it before you start.) The aarakocra are preforming the ritual off the side of the mountain, but in range of arrows and spells. As the players start to attack them, they’ll fly to a less accessible spots and it will be made harder for the players, who will have to pursue and stop them before they can finish.
Several ideas for this fight:
- The aarakocra fly around the mountain and out of sight. The players have to either follow them by running along a narrow ledge, possibly without enough room for them to change position and/or a crevice that they’ll have to jump; or they can try to climb the last cliff needed to reach the top of the mountain.
- The only way to reach the aarakocra is blocked by 1-2 sleeping cave bears. Do they save time by climbing over them and hoping they don’t wake up, or do they play it safe and attack the cave bears first?
- A small herd of giant goats (CR 1/2) are running toward the players (possibly driven that way be other aarakocra.) They won’t attack, but in another turn they’ll be blocking the players shots or threatening to push them down. They’ll have to decide how best to respond to this.
And of course, there can be more aarakocra not taking part in the ritual who are available to harass the players. You can use them be themselves or together with one of the ideas mentioned above.
Should the players fail to stop the aarakocra before they summon the air elemental, I suggest you have them immediately lose the fight. At the level that they’re fighting aarakocra they aren’t strong enough to tackle an air elemental, so don’t even try. Either have the aarakocra capture them after the air elemental stripes them of their weapons, or have it push them off the mountain. They can land in some bushes, and you’ll continue the adventure from there.
Combat encounter 3 (difficulty variable)
The summoning of the air elemental can also be used with the aarakocra as allies of the players.
A large force of some enemy force is advancing (orc’s, gnolls, or some other monster type.) They’re too numerous for the players and the aarakocra to fight, so the aarakocra are going to summon an air elemental to help, and the players have to delay the invaders until the summoning can be completed.
This type of fight is much better run in theater of mind. If you are using a battlemap, make it clear that the enemy is large and they have many more units than are shown on the map. Also, this type of fight can’t be run by the normal rules, but follows them loosely as a kind of guideline. Let the players know that the number of enemies can have effects that normally aren’t there. [see below]
Before the battle, prepare one narrow checkpoint that the players are going to be defending. Also provide at least one other defendable position the defendable players can retreat to after being driven back from the first point. Ideally provide two or three so that the players have some choice.
Give them a limited amount of time to prepare defenses. If the players don’t realize on their own the importance of defendable positions and fortifying them have the aarakocra suggest the idea, but leave the specifics of how to fortify up to the players. (If you need to give an example to help the players get the idea, use an example that can’t be followed in this case.)
As the enemies arrive, the aarakocra begin the ritual. (Perhaps there weren’t enough of them until right then, or they were waiting the arrival of the leader who is the only one who knows how to do the ceremony.) You can have some of the aarakocra join the players to help fight. If you do, read what I wrote above regarding group battles in the section how to use aarakocra as allies.
In this battle, don’t bother tracking the enemies damage unless the players insist on it. You can kill enemies any time they roll high, as you have unlimited enemies. You will keep track of the players HP, but much more important is position. If the enemies roll a crit, let the players be driven back a little. The same if the players fail too many attack rolls. Keep the action moving. Don’t let the battle just become five rounds of rolling dice.
If the dice don’t provide you with an opportunity to drive the players back, you’ll have to provide one. They can use smoke or poisonous gas to drive the PC’s back (this will drive them back in two ways, they won’t be able to breath and they won’t be able to see, which will give them disadvantage on rolls,) they can set up a line of archers (let the players know that there are enough arrows to defeat them instantly and they have to run for it. If you have to demonstrate, you’ll waste a precious round when you only have five,) or let them scale the cliff, and if the players don’t run they’ll be hit from both behind and in front.
You might have to use these threats also when the players retreat to their secondary position. You probably aren’t aiming to force them from it, but you want to keep the story moving. Don’t let it become static, boring.
As this isn’t a normal battle, be flexible with the rules if the players suggest something that isn’t official. Let them use a charge to drive back the enemy, even if normally battle doesn’t work that way. (Even in normal battle I recommend being flexible with the rules, treating them more like guidelines. But it’s almost essential here.)
You’ll have to judge for yourself based on how the battle is going, but you’re probably going to have to have the enemy ignore the summoning once the battle begins. The players are going to have their hands full taking care of themselves, and won’t have the ability to do more. Just say that the enemy focus on the PC’s, and that that is distracting them.
Like in the previous encounter, once the aarakocra complete their ritual the battle is essentially over. The enemy can’t fight an elemental who is immune to their weapons, so they start to back off and flee as the elemental tears into them and starts wreaking havoc, probably donning more damage than it is technically supposed to in one turn. (It will sound better this way, and nobody cares about the rules for something like this.) You can give the players one more round, so that they can have fun tearing into the enemy now that the tables have turned, and then declare the battle won. Besides, the aarakocra are coming to thank them, and possibly reward them.
Handling the aarakocra’s surrender
In general, you do not want to let enemies surrender. The players rarely have the ability to imprison the villains, they’re in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of an important quest, so they’re forced to decide between killing hostages or letting villains go free, to pursue their evil purposes in another location. One option makes the players feel like suckers, the other option makes them feel like a**holes. Don’t do this to them.
This time, however, is different. This time the enemy who is surrendering is good.
The main thing you have to do is provide a direction to the players. The players have just won after a difficult, and possibly frustrating, battle. They don’t necessarily want to slaughter the aarakocra, but they might not know what else to do. It’s up to you to provide that direction.
Let’s start with the aarakocra’s attitude toward the players. They will be respectful, as they are at the players mercy, and they will most likely agree to whatever the players say. If the players treat them decently, they will see that they were wrong to oppose the players and that they should have worked with them from the beginning. If the players threaten violence, let them point out, gently if possible, that the reason they didn’t want the players coming near them in the first place was because they weren’t certain if they could trust the players, and now the players are showing them that they were right not to trust. If the players back down, go back to acting as though the players had acted decently from the beginning.
The next thing you need is to give them a direction. If your story is that the aarakocra were forced to attack the players by some evil overlord who was too strong for them, then your direction is easy. It wasn’t the aarakocra’s fault in the first place, and now they have to go deal with the one whose fault it was.
If not, you can spin a story about how they didn’t trust strangers because the last time they did the strangers stole something valuable from them. The strangers might still be in the vicinity, and the players can deal with them. Or perhaps the aarakocra are short of food because of a monster that’s been threatening their farmers or hunters, and they can use the players protection.
Throwing in a quest hook gives the players a choice. They can be the magnanimous conquerors, and be nice now that they’ve proved their strength*, or they can leave the aarakocra to their fate as a punishment for attacking them, and continue the main quest**. Either way, the players will hopefully no longer decide to burn down the village***.
*If they help the aarakocra, be ready to reward them with something nice. Present the aarakocra as having a hard time giving up the item, it is very valuable to them, but they’re giving it up anyhow because they owe it to the players for helping them, and also as an apology for attacking them in the first place. This should manage most of the ill-feelings the players might still be feeling.
**If the reason the aarakocra are suffering is because of the main quest [such as the same villain] it’s probably even better. The players will sympathize with the aarakocra more readily, and you might not even need a side quest and reward. It can also help strengthen the story of the main quest, assuming you didn’t do the exact same thing too many times.
***And if they do go murderhobo anyway? At the end of the day, that’s their decision (and whether to DM for them is yours.) If you prefer, you can say that the aarakocra moved their women and children when they saw the players coming, and hid most of their food and valuables, leaving just enough for it to seem believable that this is all there was.
This is the puzzle the players find in the destroyed caravan. (You can obviously use any puzzle you want, but I don’t do something like say “the players find a puzzle” without giving you an idea for one.)
Create a three-layered circle (a circle with a smaller circle inside it, and an even smaller circle around that.) You’ll want even the innermost circle to be big enough for all your players to see it easily.)
Each circle is divided into four even sections. The smallest circle has the letters S S A W, one letter in each section. The next circle has each of its sections colored. The colors are blue, green, yellow and orange-red (the color of the leaves of autumn.) The last circle has pictures. The sun, dead leaves blowing in the wind (or an autumn leaf if you can’t manage my first suggestion,) a rain cloud with rain coming out [a snowflake is a valid alternative,] and a plant growing from the ground.
The three layers of the circle can be rotated independent of one another. Tell the players that they are fixed to the side of a locked chest. The chest also has a handle.
The puzzle is simple. If the three circles are matched up correctly pulling [or turning] the handle will open the chest. If they aren’t matched up correctly, the players pulling on the handle will take 2d6 lightning damage (or whatever you think is appropriate.) I’ll leave the contents of the chest up to you.
(If you’re reading this, I apologize for not creating the circle for you to print out. I was hoping to do that, but I’m having trouble figuring out how to make this circle on the computer, in a useful format. Hopefully, I’ll still do it at a later date.)
A few notes on the puzzle:
I wouldn’t give the players instructions. It seems to me that most D&D puzzles require the players to figure out what they should be doing, and in this case that doesn’t seem too hard.
I made the puzzle a bit easy to compensate for the lack of instructions [more accurately, I calculated that lack as part of the difficulty.] In addition, hard puzzles lead to frustration. Being stuck on a puzzle for an hour, or having an argument between the players as to whether to keep trying or to give up, rarely makes for a fun session.
When building the puzzle make certain that the pieces of the puzzle are arranged on the wheel properly. For example, summer has to be between spring and autumn on all three sections. Also make certain the circles aren’t matched correctly when the players receive the puzzle. (The correct solution is spring-green-growing plant, summer-sun-yellow, autumn-red-leaves in wind, winter-blue-rain.)
One more note on difficulty: The aarakocra are associated with the elements. I deliberately chose this puzzle because if the players have the elements in mind, they might mistakenly try to match the circles accordingly. That’s why I only used the first letters of each season, why I chose a for autumn instead of f for fall, and I chose the pictures with that in mind also.