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
Oh, please. The FR still get way more attention than ANY other settting, so your grousing just comes off as petulant to those that are fans of those other settings. Secondly, there are more Realms products that AI, so your doomsday prediction doesn't hold water. Also, the Realms aren't sacrosanct. P.S. You have no room to talk about joke products until the realms gets it own version of the Castle Greyhawk module.
But I dunno, people like Ed Greenwood and R. A. Salvatore who like Acquisitions, Inc...can they be considered Real Forgotten Realms Fans™, or are they just Johnny Come Lately posers?
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
*Owlbears, if you ignore the magical crossbreeding fluff, can actually be actually bemade non-silly.
Just play Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Once they have ripped you to shreds a few dozen times the stop being funny at all.

Even kaiju owlbears.
 

Mournblade94

Explorer
But I dunno, people like Ed Greenwood and R. A. Salvatore who like Acquisitions, Inc...can they be considered Real Forgotten Realms Fans™, or are they just Johnny Come Lately posers?
I haven't called anyone that likes it a poser fan or anything of the sort. Nor am I railing against people buying it if they want.
[MENTION=6563]Azzy[/MENTION]

I would much rather have no development than wholesale changing of the realms like 4e did. Be careful what you wish for

I play Forgotten Realms for High Fantasy simulation. I have no desire for forgotten Realms to be the office humor campaign world. I'd take no development over that just like I didn't want them to change all the areas for 4e.
 

smerwin29

Explorer
Thanks for all the great feedback. As one of the writers on the book, and as someone who has worked in the Realms on official products for more than 10 years, I took great care in ensuring that everything in the book that I wrote or edited or developed made sense in the Realms, regardless of tone. People play D&D in different ways, and none of those ways are better or worse than any other, and they all have a place in not just the Realms, but in any of the D&D settings.

As those of you who are at all familiar with the AI content knows, parts of it are silly. Parts of it are a bit slapstick. And parts of it are satire. But there are also parts of it that are grim, deeply complicated, and deadly serious. What captured my fancy with AI in its earliest incarnations was that it was much like my own home campaigns over the years - lots of joking that contrasted and illuminated the seriousness of the plot - but with AI that joking took on a unique form. The campaigns incorporated the jokes rather than brushing them off, and, in a complicated and subtle way, transcended the jokes while still putting them forward.

We worked hard to make sure the mechanics, even when placed on a humorous or satirical frame, worked well as D&D mechanics. The adventure, while it presents a structure that highlights how to use an AI franchise in your campaign, can still be run as a typical starting campaign with very little tweaking necessary.

In the world of the Realms, I have written hundreds of thousands of words. I wrote "Halls of Undermountain" and the Moonshae Isles Guide. I wrote part of the D&D Next products "Confrontation at Candlekeep" and "War of Everlasting Darkness" and "Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle." I helped administer the Living Forgotten Realms campaign, and I write extensively in the Adventurers League campaign. The same care I took with all those went into the AI book, and the rest of the team felt that burden and mandate as well.

Thanks to everyone who supported the effort. And thanks to those who took the time to read the content of the book before passing judgement on it. I can't say it's for everyone, but, of course, nothing is. If you're ever at a convention where I'm attending, please say hi, and I'd be happy to chat about it or anything else related to this great game and hobby we share.
 

Mournblade94

Explorer
It's all fair enough. I recognize I sound like a grumpy old man. I'm 46 years old, so more than likely I'm reacting to this as evidence the products are being made for younger gamers and I'm aging out of WOTC target audience.

Such is life.
 

bedir than

Explorer
It's all fair enough. I recognize I sound like a grumpy old man. I'm 46 years old, so more than likely I'm reacting to this as evidence the products are being made for younger gamers and I'm aging out of WOTC target audience.

Such is life.
It isn't a WotC book.
It is the first of more than a dozen Realms based 5e books that takes the heavy comedic tone.
They still aren't forcing anyone to play this style of game. It's not part of AL.
 
It's all fair enough. I recognize I sound like a grumpy old man. I'm 46 years old, so more than likely I'm reacting to this as evidence the products are being made for younger gamers and I'm aging out of WOTC target audience.

Such is life.
I'm nearly 49, and I found it a good read, and it's full of ideas and mechanics (the new race, the party roles, headquarters/staff progression, most of the backgrounds, and the spells with minor adjustments) I can easily use even in a serious campaign. I'm only part of the way through the adventure, but if you wanted to play it dead seriously, it looks like would take no more adjustment than a typical campaign to do so. The book being funny (sometimes side-splittingly so) was merely an added bonus.

Also, it's a one-off exception. It was going to be a 3rd-party book, and WotC took on the publishing as an extra slot above and beyond what they were already planning to publish this year.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Also, it's a one-off exception. It was going to be a 3rd-party book, and WotC took on the publishing as an extra slot above and beyond what they were already planning to publish this year.
That's my understanding as well. Basically they PA guys were doing it regardless of WotC involvement, the WotC heard about and thought it was good enough to make an official product.

Nevermind the fact that the guys that Penny Arcarde are mid-40s gamers. They've been doing PA for 20 years since they left college.
 

LarryD

Villager
Replace Turmish with Lopango, and that's me!

I really don't know why I chose one of the most out of the way places in one of the least supported continents as the base of my FR campaign. It might have had something to do with Boy Meets World. Or just because Volcanoes are cool.
My homebrew campaign takes place on the continent of Katashaka. I can see Lopango from my front porch!
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
It's really only for AI fans and those who want to see the realms burn.
Yes, in the sense that is where the usual detritus of the game get's deposited. :p

Forgotten Realms being the 'kitchen sink' of the published settings works well with this metaphor, as does that fact that when the 'plot-tide' turns, everything that went before is irrelevant water under the bridge - very much playing to the fact that FR is filled with vastly powerful NPCs who overshadow the PCs and help to make their victories more shallow by their ever-present dominance of the gameworld.

I prefer gameworlds where PC can eventually permanently rise up to the top of the tree and stay there, not be a flash in the pan doomed to stay firmly in the shadow of Elminster et al.

This is of course all a personal opinion - FR is the darling of many a game table, but I think much better worlds in terms of being original and where PC agency and impact satisfyingly persist - Scarred Lands for example...
 

EthanSental

Explorer
Are we talking rpg world or novel world concerning Elminster and other powerful NPCs saving the realms? Other than the adventures in 2e that were based on the times of trouble novels, the adventures tend to let the game table characters be the hero’s. If a DM uses Elminster as a nod that comes in a saves the day, well that’s on them and not the FR world design issue. Many DMs like for their campaign world to have the known names like a Gandalf meet the PCs since it ties them to the world a bit but hopefully after a few years of DMing that it’s cool but that the PC are the only heroes the people at the table really care about.
 

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