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Acquisitions, Inc.: First Impressions

Acquisitions Inc. has earned a special, beloved place in the actual play segment of the game industry. In 2009, long before Critical Role, Sirens of the Realms, or Dice, Camera, Action, Penny Arcade debuted D&D games presented as podcasts. They later transitioned to video and live-play in front of an audience at conventions, and have even had a comic book. Crowds for those live events have grown to larger and larger venues.


Over time, the DM became Chris Perkins, senior producer of Dungeons & Dragons for Wizards of the Coast., and more recently, Jeremy E. Crawford, senor game designer for Dungeons & Dragons. Along the way, Acquisitions Inc. spawned B and C teams showcasing other player groups, some of whom involved WotC staff members.

So perhaps the only surprise is that it's taken this long for Penny Arcade and Wizards of the Coast to team up and produce an Acquisitions Inc. book, though its 10 anniversary makes it perfect timing. Could anything else be such a no-brainer for content?

For those unfamiliar with Acquisitions Inc, the adventures meld classic D&D fantasy with dark office comedy. New players are often “interns,” and AI chapters are “franchises,” complete with promises that another franchise won't invade your territory. It opens with a note from “the leader,” AI founder, Omin Dran. Interspersed through the text are additional notes by well-known AI characters Omin, Jim Darkmagic, etc.

The book's layout is logical – Acquisitions Inc.'s history, in and out of game, custom character classes to fit into its corporate structure, variants from the traditional classes, new races, spells and factions, followed by an adventure. Players are warned not to read past page 78.

This is just the first impressions article. A deeper examination will follow once I have more time with the book. Until then, I'm quite pleased with the results even though I've only occasionally watched AI games (too much to do running D&D campaigns, creating my own RPG and life in general rather than lack of interest). The comedy/business approach to fantasy adventuring isn't new (Who else read Nodwick comics?), but it seems nicely put together here, with a rather fun internal logic.

The first thing that caught my attention, though, was the Deep Crow entry in the Table of Contents. Being a lover of the entire Corvus family, I flipped straight to the monster section of a book for the first time in my life. The entry did not disappoint. While technically labeled a form of avian insect, they look like a very large, monstrous version of crows. With a 9 challenge rating, they'll be capable adversaries for your players. The Ancient Deep Crow is even more dangerous, with a challenge rating of 12 and lair actions.

I was initially excited by the monster entry for the Clockwork Dragon, too, but that waned as I read the listing. I love, love, love the idea of a clockwork dragon (only slightly less than that of a crow that gets a legendary action). The description talks about how clockwork dragons are a “formidable guardian and defender.” You can then, perhaps, imagine my surprise when I see that its challenge rating is only a 1. Yes, it gets a rechargable breath weapon but really? A CR 1? I expected better (and will be tweaking it for my own campaigns).

After that, the next thing I noticed was the artwork. Part of it is, logically and obviously, in the same style as that of their animated openings, comic book, etc. Others, like the art of “Happy Franchise Staff” on page 12 has a style I'd call “Acquisitions Inc. adjacent.” It fits the flavor of the animated art while being its own style with more depth, more subtly, and more, well, “realistic” seems a poor choice for the situation, but it is. While all of the artwork is good, I like the AI-adjacent style artwork a lot.

The section, Playing with Class, could fit nicely with the character class options presented in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. Like that book, it contains random tables for each class that you can use as is or to make your options for topics like signature items for a barbarian or Terrible Secrets for a paladin.

Some are clearly humorous, like the monk stance “Incontinent Elder – standing straight, knees together (excellent for surviving those long queues)” or Legendary Catchphrases like “'Surrender' is my middle name but it was a family thing and I never use it.” Others are geared specifically for Acquisitions Inc. adventures, like Barbarian Style such as “a fur-lined, double-breasted suit with a corporate logo on the pocket” or Cool Mottos for a warlock like “I'm the prophet of profit and I've got a prediction for success.” Others would fit in perfectly in any type of campaign, like a fighter's signature equipment that is “a bow carved with images of the phases of the moon” or a druid's Creatures to Care For that includes “a colony of bees whose hive once hung from a tree in your homeland.”

Similarly, the character quotes scattered through the book range from the accurate (“What a customer wants is not always what a customer needs... or gets.”) to the line between funny and disturbing (“Hirelings are kindling in the fire of opportunity.”).

The book also guides you through creating your own Acquisitions Inc. franchise for your players, complete with random tables for when you might have to do it quickly. Probably the part that might interest AI watchers the most is the NPC section that stats out well-known characters like Omin Dran, Jim Darkmagic, Rosie Beestinger and Brahma Lutier. I'm a bit surprised that they cap out at fifth level but the included adventure is for levels 1-5 so there is an internal logic to it.

Overall, I think AI fans will be happy with the Acquisitions Inc. book. I can't wait to dive deeper into it for my follow-up review.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

Parmandur

Legend
Actually yes there is.
Insofar as there is a set Canon, it is managed by the DM Prime of... Acquisitions, Inc. Who has gone on record that table-Canoj is the only important Canon. Don't like AI? Groovy, it isn't part of your personal table-Canon. I remix the 5E lore, as spice, into the 3E timeframe as presented in the FRCS: I can ignore the Spellplague and Sundering to my heart's content, because my Realms-canon has priority.
 

Parmandur

Legend
It's not the comedy that is the issue, it's that in an FR context it makes no sense, corporations Ade legal entities that real heavily on national and international law, none of which exists in FR. Yes FR is big, but it's not a matter of size, it's a matter of context.
If we apply that standard, the whole enterprise of the Forgotten Realms is on shaky foundations.
 

darjr

I crit!
I loved the bit of Adventure I've played in. And I'm putting Keg Robots in as many places as I think I can get away with.
 

EthanSental

Explorer
I know we’ll be waiting for reviews to be posted eventually but it’s got the new hot release buzz for the week as it’s at 107 in the Amazon top sales chart for books,
 

Elon Tusk

Villager
For me, it's been the most readable D&D book yet. I'm planning on adding some this to my existing campaign tonight and then maybe use the included adventure at another point when we start a new 1st level campaign.
 

Mournblade94

Explorer
I'm fine with camp, AI goes a dozen shades beyond camp or humour like Misc, into actively damaging the emersive quality of the setting. It's not really the humour that bothers me, it's that the forms it takes make no sense in FR. How are their modern style corporations in FR, where is the legal code and international law such organizations require to function.

And I'm not gate keeping, disliking the quality of the content is not gate keeping, I'm not forbidding AI to play in FR, I just wish they put more effort into does this Quality X make any kind if sense in FR, not just is it funny.

I'd rather they'd done this with one if the other streaming groups, who might have funny stuff, but in a way that respects the setting and makes sense.

Heck I'm even fine with the Verdan, aka the Gobliniod Millenials, it's mostly the goofy corporate references and similar stuff that bugs the crap out of me, not the Verdan, not the use of humour (within reason), its all the stuff that makes no sense in FR. Now maybe the book will explain how a modern idea of a corporation works in FR.
It is exactly what you said above. It makes no sense. It is anachronistic in that it does not in any way fit in with the society established in FR.

I have no problem with this as a standalone. But Perkins recently tweeted that this is now a canon direction for the realms. That we will see AI characters possibly appear in Novels.

Aurora's Whole Realms catalog wasn't suddenly referenced as the primary mode of transport. It didn't appear in any of the novels I read (It might have in some I didn't) and I've read alot.

This is Anachronistic, not in a time sense, but in a theme sense.
 

Parmandur

Legend
It is exactly what you said above. It makes no sense. It is anachronistic in that it does not in any way fit in with the society established in FR.

I have no problem with this as a standalone. But Perkins recently tweeted that this is now a canon direction for the realms. That we will see AI characters possibly appear in Novels.

Aurora's Whole Realms catalog wasn't suddenly referenced as the primary mode of transport. It didn't appear in any of the novels I read (It might have in some I didn't) and I've read alot.

This is Anachronistic, not in a time sense, but in a theme sense.
AI characters have already appeared, in novels written by Ed Greenwood. This has been canonical FR for a long time now.
 

Mournblade94

Explorer
AI characters have already appeared, in novels written by Ed Greenwood. This has been canonical FR for a long time now.
Ok. I just looked up the book and I did indeed read it. I remember the name I just had no idea the character was AI. Hopefully they stay as unidentifiable as that. In anycase, I mentioned to my players while running the last part of Out of the Abyss I'd probably change the timeline back to around 1375 DR. This pretty much solidifies that decision. The realms has moved to be something else from the lore heavy days. Its a marketing experiment now I guess. The lore books have been pretty weak since SCAG, so I might as well just switch it back.
 

Parmandur

Legend
Ok. I just looked up the book and I did indeed read it. I remember the name I just had no idea the character was AI. Hopefully they stay as unidentifiable as that. In anycase, I mentioned to my players while running the last part of Out of the Abyss I'd probably change the timeline back to around 1375 DR. This pretty much solidifies that decision. The realms has moved to be something else from the lore heavy days. Its a marketing experiment now I guess. The lore books have been pretty weak since SCAG, so I might as well just switch it back.
Sure, whatever floats your boat.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
We've been telling people who have kept insisting there needed to be a Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book to go back to the 3E or Grey Box era for years now. ;)
 

Psyzhran2357

Villager
It's been a day and a half since I first took a look inside the book. Thoughts:

They weren't kidding about needing a lot of downtime. You have to structure the pace of the whole campaign around maintaining your office and forming connections in the community. But you still need to go adventuring. Franchise fees won't pay themselves!

The book comes with a Level 1-6 adventure called The Orrery of the Wanderer, focused on the titular Artifact and its six scattered components. Each of the components are powerful magic items in their own right, but when brought together they give the Orrery's reader access to a plethora of spells related to planar travel. The adventure itself starts you off in Waterdeep, before taking you to Phandalin, Neverwinter, Luskan, and other locations along the Sword Coast. Still on Chapter 2 of the adventure, will post more when finished reading through it.
 
Reading through the "Growing Your Franchise" chapter, I've realized that it would extremely easy to re-skin most of what's in there if you wanted to run a campaign where the group has a wealthy (but not indulgent) benefactor or are just starting out in some large organization or faction. Instead of AI giving you your headquarters and some minor magic items and abilities, your group might be just starting out with the Harpers (for example), assigned to a certain region by them, sent to your ramshackle bolt-hole, and given the minor magic items and abilities for each member's role in the group. While a few of the group roles might have to be slightly reflavored in scenarios like this, the headquarters section would work pretty well as-is. A lot of the downtime activities would work very well as well as missions given to you by your benefactor/organization.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
Honestly, looking at the spell section just affirmed for me it's not the kinda book I want. I hope it works well for those who do like AI or its content, though.
I’d read the other parts of the book first, tbh.

I love the C Team, but none of those spells are gonna exist in my game. AqInc itself, the franchises and their magic items and positions, the deep crow, etc, are all fine with me, as is defining a corporation as a type of chartered company in the early modern sense, and franchises in the same context, and just ignoring that they share names with more modern concepts, but those spells are just gags. They’re the only thing I’ve been disappointed by so far.

I’d have really liked to see some boons similar to the special powers of the C Team, with rules for player rewarding each other with “bits” to power those booms.
 

flametitan

Explorer
I’d read the other parts of the book first, tbh.

I love the C Team, but none of those spells are gonna exist in my game. AqInc itself, the franchises and their magic items and positions, the deep crow, etc, are all fine with me, as is defining a corporation as a type of chartered company in the early modern sense, and franchises in the same context, and just ignoring that they share names with more modern concepts, but those spells are just gags. They’re the only thing I’ve been disappointed by so far.

I’d have really liked to see some boons similar to the special powers of the C Team, with rules for player rewarding each other with “bits” to power those booms.
I'll just be frank: I don't like Acq Inc. and even without the spells the impression I'm getting from talk of this book isn't making it sound like I should give it a shot. I know what I like in my games, and this book isn't it.
 

Elon Tusk

Villager
So I read the first 46 pages last night and then tonight offered my 7th level PCs a franchise (at rank 2) without warning my players. They were already in a world-shattering mission, but the AI recruiter sold them hard. They jumped at the AI positions (I had a handout for each one they could pass around — the jokes from the text had them chuckling even though none of them were familiar with AI). Their home base is going to be a tower formerly owned by a chronomancer that an AI Realator (a new position I created in the moment). There is a rival AI franchise that will try to encroach on their territory. Their majordomo is secretly working for Lolth. There are all kinds of ideas from the AI book that can be adapted.

Even though I crammed becoming a franchise into our existing campaign (we were in Ravnica and then discovered Saltmarsh and the Azure Sea in Underravnica), both the player benefits and complications immediately added a jolt of positive energy to the game. They will likely end up portaling to find Omin in Waterdeep.

And one day we’ll likely start 1st levelers to run The Orrery of the Wanderer and possibly run into vestiges of the current campaign.
 

doctorbadwolf

Adventurer
I'll just be frank: I don't like Acq Inc. and even without the spells the impression I'm getting from talk of this book isn't making it sound like I should give it a shot. I know what I like in my games, and this book isn't it.
Hey, you do you. I’d rather read through something before making that choice, but it sounds like the spell section wasn’t actually at all a make or break situation for you. If you dislike AcqInc, you’re unlikely to enjoy reading a book with the same style and sense of humor.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
We've been telling people who have kept insisting there needed to be a Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book to go back to the 3E or Grey Box era for years now. ;)

I just pick and choose the bits I like best from the various eras, novels and computer games. They are riddled with contradictions anyway.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
Adventuring Companies have been a fixture of the Realms for a long time, ever since the beginning. The Grey Box spends three pages talking about what they are and lists the roster and exploits of a few famous ones. AI, as far as I can tell, adds a bit of corporate humor to the mix, but it doesn't seem to add anything radically new.
 

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