Nagpas are an ancient and yet obscure race of cursed humanoids native to Dungeons & Dragons. They resemble flightless humanoid vultures, having the heads of man-sized vultures atop withered, skeletal frames covered in shriveled, parchment-like skin, with claw-like fingers and toes, and with a very distinctive and unpleasant smell, likened either to "bird droppings, mustiness, dust, and old chemicals left on a wizard’s shelf too long", or else "dust, bird droppings, and spoiled milk".
Any possible connection to the Skeksis of Jim Henson's fantasy film "The Dark Crystal" is unclear, but it's worth noting that Skeksis appeared in film in 1982, whilst Nagpas first appeared in the D&D Expert module "X4: Master of the Desert Nomads" in 1983.
After their debut, nagpas went on to appear in the Creature Catalog, in both the AC9 and DMR2 printings, and in Creature Crucible PC2: Top Ballista, which presented them as a playable race for Dungeons & Dragons.
They were subsequently updated for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as monsters in the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix, made a 3rd edition debut as a template (and thus a playable race) in Dragon Magazine #339, and had their penultimate appearance as monsters in 4th edition's Monster Manual 3. Most recently, they've shown up in 5th edition's "Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes".
The lore of nagpas has...fluctuated a little, over the editions, but the core of it remains the same. Nagpas are cursed individuals, human or half-elf mages punished for affronting the Immortals in some way, usually through great acts of selfishness or hubris -- The Voyage of the Princess Ark has one early issue in which it encounters an entire kingdom of nagpas, who were all cursed into their present state as a result of attempting to control a powerful being from the Sphere of Entropy during a civil war. In 4th edition, the nagpas were never humans, but were a servitor race of the primordials, created with "the cunning of devils and the beauty of nymphs", who realized they were fighting on the losing side and offered to betray their creators to the gods during the Dawn War, only to be caught out and punished for their treachery.
More variable details that are harder to pin down relate to how the curse works. For example, Top Ballista implies that nagpas can reproduce, whilst in other sources, they're described as sterile. The nagpas of the Vulture Peninsula are known to be cursed with immortality, incapable of dying from old age and reincarnating when slain through violence, and the nagpas of 4th edition share this trait, but other nagpas don't have this ability mentioned. The AD&D and 3e nagpas suffer from wanderlust and can sense whenever anyone within 100 miles is talking about them, but this isn't present in the Basic and 4e versions. The 4th edition version has a seemingly unique curse in that they crave wealth and bodily comforts, but can never sate those cravings.
Yeah, it's a bit of a mess. Still, some things remains solid.
All nagpas are cursed, and all of them hate this curse intensely. As a result, they are drawn to a lifestyle of nomadic wandering, searching for obscure for magical lore of all kinds in order to one day find the powerful magic - a Wish or greater magic - that can restore them to their original forms. They're extremely antisocial, and tend to be cynical and selfish, but most would rather avoid picking fights: even if they will come back afterwards, the disruption to their search often isn't worth it. The one exception is if they think someone has figured out their ancient secrets - nagpas are deeply ashamed of their state, and want to ensure that nobody ever finds out their origins. Even the nicest of nagpas, which admittedly isn't saying much, will resort to murder in order to cover up the truth about where they came from.
In addition to their spellcasting abilities - nagpas don't lose any of their magic when transformed - they traditionally gain various magical abilities.
The Top Ballista version of the Nagpa has what we would now call spell-like abilities granting access to Darkness, Paralysis (Lawful only), Create Fire, Phantasmal Force, Polymorph Self and Animate Dead. It also has a unique Corruption attack, which is essentially a Disintegrate that only affects objects, and Magic Resistance up to 20%.
The AD&D Nagpa has a Magic Resistance of 15% and loses its Phantasmal Force, Polymorph Self and Animate Dead abilities. However, it now has the ability to create a unique Nagpa Staff, a magically melded mixture of wood and iron that has increased damage (1d8) in a nagpa's hands and functions as a Ring of Storing, capable of holding three spells from 1st-3rd level. It also has the ability to bite for 1d8 damage if desperate.
The 3rd edition Nagpa is as close to its AD&D version as possible. It has a bite attack, the spell-like abilities of Combust, Corruption, Darkness, Hold Person (Lawful) and Silent Image, spell resistance 6 + arcane caster level, a curse of wanderlust, and the ability to create Nagpa Staves. In this edition, they function as a Cold Iron weapon and have the powers of a Minor Ring of Spell Storing. They also count as +1 weapons when wielded by nagpas.
The 4e version comes in two flavors. The Nagpa Corruptor is a 9th level Controller who uses its Withering Staff, Withering Blast, Devouring Fire, Corrupting Curse and Enervating Blast powers to lay waste to foes with necrotic damage, weaken them, and hurl them around the battlefield. The Nagpa Carrion Lord is a 14th level Artillery that swings a necrotic Rotting Staff in melee, tries to blast foes from afar with Bolt of Putrescence and Rain of Ruin (single-target necrotic and ranged burst of acid), uses Consuming Shadows to simultaneously sear foes with necrotic damage and create a visual barrier, and phases through walls with Ghostly Escape if cornered.
A teaser on Twitter in March 2018 revealed that Nagpa were returning for 5th edition's "Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes" sourcebook. Here, they received yet another new origin story. 5e Nagpas consist of a cabal of 13 wizards that interfered with a ritual intended to avert a war between gods, hoping to steal power for themselves. The Raven Queen responded by cursing them two-fold; condemning them to an eternal misery as hideous vulture-like creatures, she also rendered them unable to ever learn anything, especially arcane lore, unless they plucked it from the ruins left behind by fallen civilizations and great calamities.
...So, now they spend their eternity weaving subtle plots to bring down wide-ranging disasters and catastrophes, up to and including the destruction of entire civilizations, so they can pillage the wreckage for scraps of arcane lore to increase their power. Nice going, ya bird brain!
The 5e Nagpa is a 15th level wizard with 120ft Truesight, the Corruption power (a 90ft 1-turn-long Charm Person that Evil creatures have Disadvantage against), and the ability to Paralyze all non-undead, non-construct creatures within 30 feet of it for 1 minute as a Recharge 6 bonus action.
|Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition Races|
|Basic Set:||Dwarf - Elf - Hobbit - Human|
|Creature Catalog 1:|| Brownie - Centaur - Dryad - Faun - Hsiao |
Leprechaun - Pixie - Pooka - Redcap - Sidhe
Sprite - Treant - Wood Imp - Wooddrake
|Creature Catalog 2:|| Faenare - Gnome - Gremlin - Harpy |
Nagpa - Pegataur - Sphinx - Tabi
|Creature Catalog 3:||Kna - Kopru - Merrow - Nixie - Triton|
|Dragon Magazine:|| Cayma - Gatorman - Lupin - N'djatwa |
Phanaton - Rakasta - Shazak - Wallara
|Hollow World:|| Beastman - Brute-Man - Hutaakan |
Krugel Orc - Kubbit - Malpheggi Lizard Man
|Known World:|| Bugbear - Goblin - Gnoll |
Hobgoblin - Kobold - Ogre - Troll