The Plague Bird is a humanoid creature ranging in height from 3 inches tall to 1ft tall at maturity. A very soft, downy layer of feathers cover the back, neck, scalp, upper arms and upper legs – the face, breasts, stomach, and pubis are covered in bare skin. Lower arms and legs are covered in dark scales similar to a bird. They have claws instead of hands and feet, and the digitigrade foot ends in two claws and a ‘killing’ claw. They usually have very long, non-prehensile tails also covered in fluff, though these are often docked at birth. Males typically have far more of an abundance of ‘fluff’, often culminating in a mane or crest-like features. Some bloodlines may even have a movable crest, similar to that of the cockatoo. They are usually the ones also sporting the brilliant colors of a male bird, and the females are usually duller and have much less fluff. Long hair, styled and preened feathers, flashy clothing and jewelry are actually much more masculine features in their society. Females are usually more practical and plain.
Birds typically dress in long robes, hoods, and many variations on what humans would call a plague doctor mask. Of course, Birds will dress appropriately to their professions, or to flaunt their wealth or stature. Removing one’s mask in public is intensely frowned on. A Bird will only take their mask off for a very limited number of reasons: to be sexually intimate with another Bird, in mourning rituals for the dead, shortly before dying or as a gesture of extreme trust between other Birds. Casually removing the mask would be as socially unacceptable as taking off one’s clothes in the middle of church.
It is a long standing tradition rooted in superstition and practicality. It is believed that the Gods hate them for still existing, so to avoid being recognized by the Gods, one must disguise themselves.When outside of cities the mask also provides a great deal of protection from the elements, which is believed to be why early Birds originally wore them. There is a small panel or hole located in the bottom of these masks for drinking and eating.
Bird society values the intense study of magic and a well learned populace. Illiteracy is not only incredibly rare but treated as an obscene crime. The ability to use magic is also extremely valued. An individual born without magic is a blight on a family. To not be able to use magic will make you basically a second class citizen: you will be discouraged from breeding, and often shunted into unimportant roles in society. While there are exceptions, for most non-magic users it is impossible to claw their way out of this station in life. Rarities may be extremely wealthy non-magic users, skilled artisans, well read scholars and exceptionally physically strong individuals.
The world these creatures live in is horrifying and vast. Between the seas of teeth, the oceans of filth, the hungry plains and the starving forests are fortified cities and settlements. These are protected by magical wards, kept up by the constant prayer of powerful individuals or by ancient artifacts of great importance. The city the characters come from is an oddity. Most settlements consist of 400-500 individuals clinging to survival. The city of Accueil however has millions of residents. It has been built into a watchtower several miles tall, a relic of the unknown civilization that came before. It is large enough to have a royal family, a small government, a bustling economy, and its own intrigue and conspiracies, as well as defined bloodlines:
les beautés / angels – ranging from 6 inches to a foot tall – the equivalent of Angels in Broken Worlds. Often wearing the colors of tropical birds. They are strong physically and in magic. They usually become high ranking military officials, keepers of law, scholars, doctors and other lofty positions.
le troupeau / humans – ranging from 4 inches tall to 8 inches tall – the equivalent of Humans in Broken Worlds. Usually wearing the colors of North American humming birds or dull songbirds. Can be blessed with physical strength or magic. They can be found in almost any station, class or profession.
les corbeaux / servants – ranging from 4 inches tall to 1 ft – equivalent of servants in Broken Worlds. Almost universally wearing the dark colors of corvids. Usually found in positions where physical strength is key; in the military, in hard labor, or as bodyguards.
les rapaces / Devils – ranging from 3 inches to 6 inches tall – equivalent of Devils in Broken Worlds. Wears the colors of predatory North American birds. Powerful magic users, and often found in positions where their charisma and manipulation suits them. Merchants, politicians, criminals, artists and performers.
Every subspecies still has wings and a humanoid body. Universally these wings function much like humming bird wings; moving incredibly fast so that hovering and lift can be achieved. However, flying too high or for too long can attract attention from things you might not want noticing you, and if you want to fly for over a half mile or for over 30 minutes this will require some kind of endurance role. Failure may cause wounds.
Weaponry add-on: any weapon is allowed, but I will put the kibosh on firearms. Its simply not practical for these little guys.
However, all Birds are descendants of a larger predator species that had a ‘killing claw’ similar to that of the Dromaeosauridae family of dinosaurs. In gentle society, it is considered rude to not file or remove this claw, but less scrupulous individuals (or the eccentric, who might paint and bejewel the damn things) will keep them intact and sharp. These will have the equivalent of damage and range as a short sword.
This is a far more pressing issue in settlements that are very small and barely clinging to survival, but high sorcerers and scholars have developed a way to open portals through time and space. This is called the Jump or the Leap. A long term plan has been eventual evacuation of the hostile planet to other worlds.
There are problems, however. It is difficult to find habitable worlds in the universe; most of the universe is barren and cold. Once a place is found, it may still yet be dangerous. Typically teams of surveyors, hardened adventurers or those who have nothing to lose, will explore these places and report back on their habitability. Making a Jump is extremely risky. Any terrifying scenario that one can imagine with teleporters can happen during a Jump. One’s atoms can be ripped apart and spread too thin to ever be reassembled. One may be reassembled as a vague pile of organs at the destination. Other fates are too gruesome to be described.
Worst of all, Birds who make multiple jumps appear to lose their souls. The prevailing theory is that a jump consumes a tiny bit of the soul, and if too many such journeys are taken, there is no longer any soul left to spare. A hollow, ghastly shell will be left behind, a monster that is a perversion of the person they once were.
Aside from all these dangers, those in the secure cities feel no imperative to leave. Their homes are safe from the dangers outside, and the city of Accueil is incredibly fortified, and so vast the inhabitants have barely begun to fill out the tower that encases it.
There will always be oddities. Those born with the will to explore, or those who want adventure, or those who feel stifled by the weight of living in the built up city.