How A Strange Bird Became A Spy

Those rare times when the other players around the table surprise you, in a good way.


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This is a story about the first time I played D&D.

It was back around the mid 2010's or so, when D&D 3.5 was still kicking and Pathfinder was but a low growl to my ears. A friend of a friend was very knowledgeable about the system, and we were eager to play. My friend, and some of the DM's friends were interested, too. It ended up being 5 of us at the games; Stephen the DM (#Stephen'sWorld), my friend who we'll call Mark who played a Bard, two of the DM's friends who I forget, and myself. The Session Zero conversation went something like this:

DM: So, I like a lot of homebrew stuff, as long as it sounds good and everybody is cool with it.
Me: So, are there like, animal races?
DM: Not normally, why?
Me, with stars in my eyes as a newbie player: I wanna be a PENGUIN!

Through a bit of workshopping, background building, and making sure it wasn't overpowered, we made my penguin: a 2 foot tall Emperor penguin named Vogel [German for 'bird'], with wider legs so he could waddle at a more appropiate speed for a Small type creature [of 25/ft a round]. He had a little tuft of black hair on the top of his head, and after realizing that he now had sentience, was eager to learn things about the world. He wore a simple one-piece shirt, and kept a hooded cloak on in-town so he wouldn't draw too much attention to himself.

This was one of his greatest weaknesses.

He was naive to a fault. It didn't help either that Mark's character had a high Bluff skill, and always rolled better then me. (Yes, I watched him roll. That first set of dice he had were so lucky…rolled low when it didn't really matter, rolled high when it did…) This led to the running joke of Mark's character tricking Vogel into panicking to stop Vogel from wasting time with unnecessary questions:

Mark's PC: Vogel! Run!
Vogel: *honks in terror, turns and runs smack into a wall*

This turned out to work in the party's favor, when at one point there were two Vogels.

Vogel 1: Who are you?
Vogel 2: Who are you?
Vogel 1: Nooo, who are YOU?
Vogel 2: NO, who are YOU?!
Vogel 1: STOP COPYING ME!!!
Vogel 2: Stop copying ME!!!
Mark: How can we tell them apart-
Another PC, bored: Vogel. Run.

One Vogel honked, and ran into a wall. Mark's Bard yelled "That's our Vogel!".

But the penultimate moment came when the party wanted to infiltrate a mad king's castle. It was well guarded and had a moat, nearly impossible to sneak inside.

The party's Rogue: How are we gonna get inside?
Mark's Bard: Well, why not just sell the bird into slavery.

I was initially shocked and appalled. How dare they just abuse the [creature with the mindset of a] little kid like that! The whole party didn't seem to like him, or possibly I was being too annoying with Vogel's voice in-session.

They found one of the king's assistants wandering around town and tried to sell Vogel off as a "form of entertainment", and prodded Vogel to dance. Knowing full well that now might be a bad time to let strangers know he was actualy sentient, I made a Performance check, and rolled pretty good. The price was arranged and Vogel was thrown into an animal cage, sold into slavery. The party Rogue ruffled my hair, saying "you be a good bird now to your new masters" and left me.

I felt betrayed as the DM narrated how I was carried in over the lowered drawbridge and placed near some of the other animals. Meanwhile, the rest of the party was passing each other secret notes at the table, laughing at what I assumed was their player's dilemma that they themselves had created. The DM asked me what I wanted to do, and I glumly, in character, said "cry for a bit". It was still daytime, and if I tried to escape I would surely be captured. The DM then swaps notes back and forth between the players, and they all continued to giggle.

After a few minutes, the DM turns to me.

DM: Okay, it's nighttime. There's not many patrols at the moment, maybe it's a shift change, or possible dinner time. What do you do.
Vogel, as he scratches his head (which he did whenever he was confused. I acted it out, too): Well, the bars seem pretty thick…I don't know to-
DM: STOP. Don't move.

I keep my hand on my head.

DM: You find a lockpick in your hair.

…What? Why would the Rogue…nevermind, another question for another time. Maybe [the Rogue's player] just wanted to see my try and fail horribly due to lack of thinking.

I try to use it, despite my lack of skill and roll and 18. Good enough to open the lock. I keep my high rolls up and I make my way around the wall to where the controls for the drawbridge were. It was a simply operation, but due to my size, if I used it there would be no way to control its desent and it would surely be heard. I took a gamble and shoved it with all my body weight. It slammed open, and I ran out, prepared to start my new life.

What I wasn't prepared for was my party, along with 30 or so of the townspeople, well-equipped and looking for a brawl with their unjust "king".

The Rogue sees me, and points me out to his "gang". "Ahh, you see! We had an inside man working for us all along! Good job there little bird! Now, let us handle the fighting!"

The whole time those notes being passed were actually battle plans from the very beginning. I thought I was being betrayed as a player, when my character's naïvety was actually being accounted for via role-play.

I got better after that; the many years of playing games helped me to workshop on his voice to make it less annoying, the many variations he's taken between Monk, Rogue, Sword-and-Board Fighter, and even a Pure-Shield Fighter. To this day I still love playing him whenever I can get away with it.


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