As humans are to apes, so are the Blackwings. Some call them Corvinoids, and what they call themselves is not pronounceable by humanity.
Whatever power that shaped them drew inspiration from humanity, for they stand with similar proportions, and their long, slender, wings end with fully formed, dexterous hands, though missing a finger. These wings do not provide the Blackwing with flight, or even improved gliding. They are scrawny to the point of seeming cadaverous, and their heads are large - keeping their avian appearance while still holding a strong and scheming brain the equal of ours. Few see them like that, for even the least of them wear long thick robes that conceal even the shape of their feet.
They are a cold race, calculating and opportunistic, though it must be said that passion rarely directs their hands. They have a notorious reputation of being able to achieve whatever they set their minds to, and this is rarely of benefit to any but theirs.
The Blackwings have a social class enforced by birth - their very form changes based on how warm the egg is kept and how well fed they are during the first few months of their lives.
Even out of the nest life is not safe for the young, for bullying and outright murder is common among the fledglings, further limiting their population. The adults typically arrange the fledglings into flocks by body-size to keep this at a minimum.
Once a blackwing has acquired its adult plumage, at age 4-5, new rules apply. Rule of Law applies fully, for while they are a cold and bloody race, they play by the rules. Among the adults, open fighting and murder are serious crimes, and punished severely. They know that as a race they must do so or self-destruct.
Blackwings reproduce for up to 100 years of age, up to the greying of their feathers. Greywings can linger on for centuries, decreasing physically but gaining greater mystical powers. Death through misadventure in their arcane studies is fairly common - few have ever died of just ‘old age’. Blackwings do not acquire their powers through simple growth or age - they deliberately alter themselves with Rituals to expand their power.
Kept the warmest, and best fed of any Blackwing, they grow quick, strong and large. They are also set upon their nestmates early, and are brought together with other broods at least twice more before fledging. Normally only 1-2 make it through each stage, meaning each fledgling has seen nearly a dozen of its siblings and broodmates slain, mostly at their own beak.
An adult Soldier displays none of the frailness of the other members of their race, being more than 8’ in height. Their forearms are the strong and agile, capable of wielding sword and shield with similar ability as humans. Only the old, slow soldiers wear metal armour- the younger wear leather and metal-reinforced leather. Soldier Blackwings have short, hooked, stubby beaks and their feet have strong, sharp talons. Even with these natural weapons, they greatly prefer the use of spears, shields and curved swords.
Soldier Blackwings are socially inept, direct and boorish compared with the other Blackwings, though they have the best work-ethic of their race. They seek to follow the Nobles, protect the Commons, and kill the outsiders. Soldiers are not used to guard slaves, as they tend to kill them with little provocation.
Soldier Blackwings are not prone to Berserking, and do not cast away their lives needlessly. Occasionally, Blackwing Soldiers break away from their society and live as mercenaries. This life suits them, and they are not very picky about their employers.
The ‘peasantry’ and middle class of the Blackwings, Common Blackwings are somewhat coddled through both incubation and fledglings, and very quickly introduced into their expected trade. Those found unsuited for their intended trade are frequently cast out, for little energy is spent to find alternative trades, and the Blackwings make terrible slaves, falling quickly into neurosis and insanity. Instead they are simply cast out from their society. Isolated Blackwings will typically have this origin.
Not the most coddled before hatching - barely kept warm by their parents, but fed reasonably well before fledging, the Royal Blackwings are the most intelligent and magical of the Blackwings.
Like Soldiers, fratricide is common and encouraged, though no broods are combined. As with Common Blackwings, they are introduced quickly to the skills and tools of their trade - social skills, magic and other scholarly pursuits. Those found unsuitable at this stage are generally slain rather than banished.
Nobel blackwings carry out all of the government, scholar and religious functions in their society, along with the more advanced technical trades.
The Blackwings are intensely hierarchical, and have adopted a form of republic. They have many layers of elected groups - perhaps 6-8 layers deep, which select from their number one representative in the next higher layer. The bottom layer is at the village council level, and this contains the chief Matriarch or Patriarch.
Male and Female Blackwings are nearly impossible to distinguish by outsiders, though those with sufficient experience with them can pick up on vocal queues and plumage details. The Blackwings do not have gendered pronouns, and so will not use them consistently when speaking other languages. There are no gender-specific roles in their society.
The Blackwings are natural slavers, buying, stealing or seizing them whenever possible. Their empires are built on the backbones of massive slave populations. Even a Common Blackwing will have a few slaves, though perhaps not of great quality. All Blackwings save the Soldiers see themselves as noble and deserving of pampering and leisure. Slaves are typically only abused to enforce obedience or if it accomplishes some other goal of theirs.
Blackwings dwell in lands with ample natural defences, and love building tall impressive towers and fortifications. Farms are scattered far and wide, each one equipped with small fortresses to both guard and protect their slaves.
Magic is the chief vocation of the Nobel Blackwings, and there is no area of the art they are unwilling to explore. They are as adept as humanity, and their unfettered experimentation often allows them to exceed humans in the arts.
Their predisposition towards slavery and domination lend them to summoning, elementalism, necromancy and enchantment, and they frequently build constructs to do their bidding.
The Blackwings have their own pantheon of deities, though their day-to-day relationship with them is more like a business agreement than adoration. They worship in return for stewardship of their souls in the afterlife, countering the influence of the gods of their enemies, and the empowering of their few clerics. Their deities reflect the desires of their race, with gods of Dominance, The Eggstealer, Lord of Avararise and other powers.
Blackwings are very intelligent - their average intelligence is superior to humans, but they have very few individuals exceptionally smart or stupid - the latter due to their extremely high rate of infanticide. They are also adept socially, able to pick up social clues like a magpie can mimic sounds. Their detached rationality allows them to analyse the emotions of others, through their own low empathy could lead them astray time to time.
Physically, apart from Warrior Blackwings, they are not exceptional. Their frames are light and thin, and although they could be described as wiry, their strength is no more than a human of equal weight. Adult Blackwings - again excepting Warriors, are somewhat taller than humans. Their hollow bones makes them more vulnerable to injury.
Hands are 3-fingered with an extremely mobile thumb, giving them nearly the same degree of dexterity as humans. Blackwing craftsmen are easily comparable with those of humans, dwarves and elves. Blackwings forelimbs still resemble wings, but very slender ones that provide no flight or gliding capability. Blackwings are excellent climbers, being very light and having good gripping claws.
While as a whole not sadistic, they see little value in the lives of others when their own interests conflict. Murder is a frequent tool of these creatures, as is many other deeds should they serve to advance their interests. Individuals may revel in evil, but most are very utilitarian about such things. There are occasional more empathetic Blackwings, though they are vanishingly rare, and likely would be slain by other Blackwings should their ‘weakness’ be made known.
The Blackwings are certainly at home as Villains, being xenophobic and brittle. They have little empathy for their own race, only their own strong rationality supporting cooperation. Essentially their entire race is sociopathic, held together only by fear and self-interest. What empathy they have is for their young, though even much of this is enforced by their society.
Being very intelligent, having fine motor skills, magically adept, they can fill many roles. Any of the black arts would appeal to them.
Any number of creatures could work as minions for them, and they would be as likely to employ magic items or technology as humans.
A Blackwing PC could also work, though their grim reputation would make things difficult for them in many places.
These creatures are inspired by the Skeksis from the Dark Crystal. They are a little less mythic but can, in my opinion, play a big part in a campaign world.