Review – Acquisitions Incorporated (Dungeons & Dragons)

Every few years, a roleplaying game supplement comes along that is so powerful, so impactul, and speaks so much to the issues of the day, that it defines a generation’s roleplaying experiences for years to come. Acquisitions Incorporated is not that supplement. But it is pretty fun.

A collaboration between Wizards of the Coast and Penny Arcade, Acquisitions Incorporated brings the world of Acq Inc. to your home tabletop game. That is, it’s time for a D&D game where the focus is on making some bank and being funny, with none of this “being heroes” or “min-maxing your character stuff.” Or, as some of you call it, “every Saturday night” (except you aren’t nearly as funny as Acq. Inq. and also stabbing and stealing from the members of your own team isn’t funny at all, it’s just being a jerk, sorry). In particular, it’s a satire on the adventuring life and a satire on bureaucratic business practices, while still getting to do all of that fun killing the monsters and exercising your roleplaying muscles stuff.

The Acquisitions Incorporated supplement is more than anything a DM supplement, with two thirds of the book dedicated to an adventure that’s played from levels 1-6. However, one-third of the book dedicated to non-DM material is way more than is typical for a D&D 5E campaign/adventure book. I’ll discuss the adventure in detail further down, below a spoiler break. This part is for the players. But see Acq. Inc., p. 79 (encouraging players to read the DM section of the book, because who’s going to know or stop you, and don’t those DMs deserve to have their egos deflated a bit?).

For players, Acquisitions Incorporated has three main sets of information – background information on the setting and characters of Acq. Inc., rules for making the party be an Acquisitions Incorporated franchise, and guidance on playing out the satire of the premise. Also, it’s just pretty funny to read. Not just the frequent side notes from current members of Acq Inc, but the main text is just saturated with humor.

First, there’s the ‘setting material.’ It’s like one of those old fandom-focused RPGs where most of the book is an episode guide instead of an actual game. Except it’s only 18 pages, and most of that is write-ups and stat blocks for Omin Dran, Jim Darkmagic, the “C” Team, and so on. P.S., your party can totally take them.

Second, there’s the rules content, which spans about 40 pages. Notably, while the rules are unsurprisingly presented in amusing fashion and with that Acq Inc flair, there isn’t really anything in the rules that requires humor. The rules could be easily adjusted for use in a more traditional, serious-toned D&D game, providing a framework for the characters to organize a business and move up in the world.

The rules have two main components – the rules for the franchise itself, and then extra stuff for the individual players (note that all of this mostly works out to a more powerful party, so a game using the Acquisitions Incorporated rules may require adjustment of standard difficulties … or the DM can just let the players feel awesome, if your DM isn’t one of those “everything should be so hard it kills one of you” types). The franchise itself slowly ranks up as the characters level up. Low-level characters get a starter headquarters (for example, a beat-up keelboat), a majordomo, a handful of skilled and unskilled hirelings, and the ability to have this staff perform one task while the PCs are off gallivanting around. As the franchise ranks up and is awarded exclusive rights to do business in a bigger territory, the franchise will get more staff, the ability to have that staff attempt more tasks at once, and a variety of improvements to their headquarters (looks better, has weapons, can move around, etc.). And, of course, all of this comes with ever-higher franchise fees to be paid to the Head Office. Most of those tasks will be downtime activities, which are significantly expanded beyond those offered in the core books and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. New downtime activities/franchise tasks include exploring territory, restructuring, HQ modification, marketeering, philanthropy, running the franchise, scrutineering, shady business, schmoozing, and team building. However, it was a bit disappointing that a lot of these activities, while very different from a flavor perspective, mostly just amounted to reducing the monthly franchise fee or bringing in a flat amount of gold pieces – differentiating them will fall on the DM.

In addition to that touchy-feely “there’s no ‘I’ in team” stuff, each character also gets their own position within the company, which comes with its own perks. In general, each position comes with an extra couple of proficiencies (or one proficiency and an expanded use for that proficiency), all of the mundane tools needed for the role, and a unique ability. As the franchise ranks up, the character gains more abilities and that mundane junk becomes weak magic then better magic then wow-that-is-really-great magic. For example, at first level the Documancer gains proficiency with calligrapher’s supplies (and a free stash of such supplies), the ability to add their proficiency bonus to checks to analyze documents such as contracts, and a bonus to deciphering codes. As they level up, the Documancer gains a documancy satchel (to magically produce pre-prepared documents), which becomes a bag of holding that generates a spell scroll, which becomes an even niftier bag of holding (which they can fill up with their ability to request spell scrolls). The company positions are Cartographer (help travel, duh), Decisionist (boss everyone else around), Documancer, Hoardsperson (manage items), Loremonger (keep track of things that are as useful as items but probably less exciting), Obviator (figure out what’s in the way and crush it), Occultant (tracks kills), and Secretarian (interpersonal relations).

Acq Inq introduces a new race, the Verdan, whose concept is about mutation, but with a lot of the mechanics about interpersonal interaction. There are also some new backgrounds, such as the adventurer’s kid, the failed merchant, and the rival intern.

Third (see, I didn’t forget that I started a three-item list several paragraphs ago), there’s about 20 pages about how to flavor up different character classes (and their archetypes) for an Acq Inc campaign – the barbarian as corporate raider, the paladin as devoted to the franchise, the sorcerer as a leader with flair, and the rogue as … well, they’re still rogues.

In addition to just being a delight to read, and the Krahulik-led illustration team, which really anyone can enjoy, the value of Acq Inc is probably going to come down to an interest in that style of play. If you’re interested, the book definitely delivers. However, I think that Acq Inc also has an ability to generate interest, not just rely on an existing fandom. I joked about it above, there are some D&D games out there that are really just focused on getting more loot and engaging in obnoxious behavior masquerading as humor (I’ve spent too much time on the D&D Facebook group to think that there’s only the one game out there where upsetting the DM or other players seems to be someone’s primary goal). As you can tell, I am very far from being a fan of this sort of playstyle. So I really liked that the Acquisitions Incorporated book very much pushed away from that, while still playing in the loot-and-comedy mileu. The team may not always get along, but they still succeed or fail as a team. The party needs to at least appear to be upstanding citizens (or, at least, citizens who aren’t too far down in the mud), because they need to attract business. There are many, many interesting story hooks presented throughout the adventures – NPCs that are there not to kill and loot, but to interact and work with, possibly long term. I think they really nailed it, and I would suggest at least taking a look at Acquisitions Incorporated even if you’re not sure it would be for you.

Adventure Spoilers Below!

OK, now that it’s just the DMs (and the sneaky gits who ignored the warnings above), let’s talk about the adventure, which is called the Orrery of the Wanderer, which will take the characters from just above the depths of Acq Inc internship to just above the middling performance of a rank 2 franchise. The characters will skip the internship part for irrelevant plot device reasons, and be hurled directly into an adventure where they will first encounter the titular Orrery. This artifact has the potent ability to push forward the plot by magically having its various components fall into the hands of the player characters and/or opponents who are both interested in smashing Acq Inc and also happen to be exactly the right challenge level.

In addition to the obvious distinction of increased humor levels, there are a number of things that set the Orrery of the Wanderer apart from most published adventures. Of course, everything must be looked at through the lens of a business opportunity, which – rather than pushing the characters off path – is used as a hook to keep them interested in long-term interactions and ramifications (there really are a ton of interesting NPCs to hang out with). There’s a disregard for complete maps – if there are four rooms that matter, then the map will show those four rooms, and the DM can just chatter as needed through the intervening tunnels (and those rooms will have conveniently easy titles to recall, such as “Traps” or “Dragon”). Freed from needing to be serious, the adventure is free to throw in obligatory puzzles, traps, and such (including, but not limited to, the “Obligatory Acid Pit.”). At the same time, the adventure pulls off the neat trick of often providing a better explanation for why these features are present than many adventures – no “because Halastar Blackcloak thought it was funny” as an excuse for any random thing.

A few bits I particularly enjoyed were that the characters’ first franchise location is Phandalin, about five years after the events of Lost Mine of Phandelver (I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve done that Beginner Box adventure more than a couple of times). In the fourth section, there’s a room full of portals, with the characters needing to pop through a series of, engaging in one encounter before jumping back out. One of those encounters is based on Plants v. Zombies and another is based on Frogger.

The first four sections (exploration of tunnels under Waterdeep, exploration of a manor in Phandalin, exploration of a lighthouse, and the portal section, plus a lot of built-in ‘side quests’ as the characters move between these) were all really good. I’m not as sure about the first half of the fifth section, which features the characters possessing various members of a dwarven wedding party in order to gain access to a dwarven vault. It seems like a real challenge for both the DM and players to actually get the sort of unique roleplaying/comedy experience that’s intended, as the players try to manage their goals and the secret-but-mostly-mundane objectives of their ‘hosts’ (e.g., delivering a particular kind of toast at the wedding). After that, section five is rounded out with an airship battle (which is mostly designed for the PCs to lose) and a conversation with the creator of the Orrery. Section 6 mixes in the “C” Team and then the “A” team (saving the former and fighting shadows of the latter), as the Final Ritual of Ultimate Doom happens to be taking place at the Dran & Courtier. The adventure will see the characters going through multiple alternate versions of the inn (to include being shrunk down and having to avoid death at the hands of a now-giant house cat). The adventure culminates in a fairly complex battle involving the aforementioned shades, potentially endless goblins, and a lot of rolls to control and shut down the ritual before the world is destroyed.

Overall, the adventure is solid, with a relatively high (but entirely reasonable) amount of DM improvisation required throughout to manage the downtime/NPC aspects of running a franchise. The first four missions should go smoothly, with lots of fun, but the possessed dwarfs and the final battle will require extra DM attention to keep all of the plates spinning just so.

Promotional consideration provided in the form of a review copy.

 

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