Acquisitions Incorporated Takes Over D&D: A Review

Wizards of the Coast's collaboration with Penny Arcade to create a Dungeons & Dragons supplement featuring Acquisitions Incorporated has been 10 years in the making (sort of) – the original Acquisitions Incorporated podcast debuted in 2009. It should definitely please fans of AI and draw in those new to AI.

In case you don't know, Acquisitions Incorporated, which has expanded to streaming, live games at conventions, and comic books, takes D&D's heroic fantasy and treats it like an office comedy. My first impressions article addressed how that affected D&D's character classes, the new monsters in the AI book (Deep Crows! Clockwork Dragons!), etc. Now let's dive into AI's corporate structure, so to speak.
AI Decisionist.jpg

The first part of the book is about how to play in an AI campaign. Appropriately, a lot of that is handled like a corporations' franchise guide. The players would be running an AI franchise much like the official Twitch and live play games that feature the B team or C team. You start off with a small franchise and work up to having a small territory, large territory or limited extraplanar area. As the franchise itself goes up in level, it gets more staff, features and has to handle more tasks.

Each franchise also gets a majordomo to run the administrative aspects. If a player loved that sort of thing they could be the majordomo, but it's assumed the majordomo will be an NPC. The GM is encouraged to have fun with this. Chapter 1 has a fast franchise generator – a series of random tables to quickly handle key points. The ideas for a memorable majordomo are terrific and can inspire new, quirky, memorable majordomos.

Appropriately, Acquisitions Incorporated has its own terminology so instead of skilled hirelings there are interns. Unskilled hirelings are “subemployees.”

Every starting franchise needs a headquarters. I like that in addition to the standard trope of an old tavern, AI offers ideas for bases like an abandoned lighthouse, a beat-up keel-boat and a worn carriage and horses. As the franchise becomes more successful, additional features can be added or they can upgrade to a better “office.”

As with any D&D campaign, players select a class and background, but in an AI game, they can also take on company roles as well. Options include Cartographer, Decisionist, Documancer, Hoardsperson, Loremonger, Obviator, Occultant, or Secretarian. Each position gets its own proficiencies separate from the character's class. These involve adding one's proficiency bonus in certain circumstances as well as abilities like “Speak Fluent Boss,” “What a Deal,” and “Tiebreaker Absentee Ballot.”

Each position also has a chart providing sample motivations for why someone might select that position. They're pretty funny.

A sample character is also provided for each position, not as in a fully stat'd character, but rather how they approach the role. So human ranger decisionist Kelshi Annab has seen everything and instead of being an authoritarian decisionist, she comes at things as the objective outsider with unyielding resolve. Each example also explains what book details that race if it's not one in the Players Handbook, like Genasi or Tabaxi. That's a very nice, highly useful touch. Clearly they thought about the readers who might be playing D&D for the first time because they watched AI streams but aren't familiar with all of the supplements.

Chapter 2 also has a lot of ideas for adding business complications as the franchise grows. These touch on topics like philanthropic enterprises, marketing, scrutineering, headquarters modifications, shady business practices, schmoozing, team building and complications for each. AI even adds its own factions – AI itself, of course, Dran Enterprises, The Noble Knife, The Silver Sliver and The Six. I'm thinking of adding these factions and an NPC AI franchise to my Waterdeep campaign as foils for my current players.

The enclosed adventure, The Orrery of the Wanderer, starts in Waterdeep so if you've been running Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (see my first impressions and deep dive reviews) or Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (first impressions and deep dive), this ties in nicely. Characters could make new, first level characters for it (Orrery is for 1-6 level PCs) or scale the adventure to fit existing characters' current level. There is a sidebar on adjusting the adventure for whatever power level.

Orrery is a solid adventure that takes players all over the Sword Coast. That also gives newcomers to D&D a sense of the world at large. Early on the players meet Omin Dran and Jim Darkmagic to get their assignment. It's handled briefly enough that it shouldn't intimidate DMs to play these well-known characters – plus there's plenty of footage online to help you prep.

Part of the charm of Acquisitions Incorporated concept is that it takes a core component of D&D – acquiring profit [treasure] – and reduces it to a pure yet humorous level. The big bosses in the company hand out an assignment. While obviously a lot can be done with that from the role-playing the side, the motivation for an adventure is simplified. It also provides a structure that, theoretically, can rein in unruly players. Maybe. Perhaps.

Besides, office comedies are popular for a reason. Whether it's The Office or going back to The Dick Van Dyke Show, it's a structure that allows people who might not otherwise like each other (how common is that in groups?) to have to work together somewhat cooperatively. Characters can still backstab each other (figuratively or literally), but it eliminates a lot of the “why are these people still working together?” dilemma. If a character dies, someone new is recruited or sent from corporate. It's also highly relatable because most people have either worked in an office at some point or in another way are familiar with the tropes.

The combined teams from D&D and Penny Arcade did a terrific job turning AI into a solid supplement that can seed unlimited adventures beyond the Orrery plot. Whether you're an existing AI, D&D completist or just want something different, Acquisitions Incorporated the book is an excellent read.

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!
 
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Beth Rimmels

Comments

The Roles are really neat and work mechanically how Backgrounds should work. They scale up by tier and continually give neat little abilities that help define the character but aren't terribly powerful. Great work.
 
While the tone of AI isn't exactly what I'm looking for, it sounds like the roles could easily be "reskinned" to fit one of the central organizations of my campaign setting, so my interest is suddenly piqued...
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
The Roles are really neat and work mechanically how Backgrounds should work. They scale up by tier and continually give neat little abilities that help define the character but aren't terribly powerful. Great work.
Aside from being a huge fan of the C Team, the roles were my primary reason for picking up the book. But to be honest, I actually preferred the abilities they offered on the preview bookmarks. They were all "x times / day, you can do a thing." In the book, many of them are now "do a skill check. If you fail, too bad. If you succeed, you do a thing and can't do it again for 7 days." I feel like this overcomplicates things. First, let the expert do their thing, there are already too many unnecessary skill checks (XGE says DC 10 check to "create a typical meal" for someone proficient with Cook's Utensils? Really? I've never had special training with cooking tools, and I've never once failed to create a meal). Second, 7 days in-game on a big adventure could be more than a month for a group that meets once per week. I like the roles but the specific rules left me wanting.
 
While the tone of AI isn't exactly what I'm looking for, it sounds like the roles could easily be "reskinned" to fit one of the central organizations of my campaign setting, so my interest is suddenly piqued...
As I said in the AI First Impessions thread, a huge amount of the info in the book could be almost effortlessly re-skinned for a group belonging to a larger organization or one that has a wealthy (but not indulgent) benefactor.
 

Zarithar

Explorer
It's an impressive book all around with many ideas I would consider using at some point. The adventure is more of a mini-campaign and is really well put together. I'm happy with the purchase to say the least!
 
I picked up AI and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know that I would necessarily use it for campaign straight up, but some of the ideas I would definitely use from the book. Again I really enjoyed reading it more than anything!
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
Appreciate the good review. This confirms that there is nothing in this book I really need or want. But there is an audience for it and its good to know they will be pleased.
 

D1Tremere

Visitor
Appreciate the good review. This confirms that there is nothing in this book I really need or want. But there is an audience for it and its good to know they will be pleased.
There is a great new race, several interesting new backgrounds, and great ways to add evolving mobile headquarters to a campaign. All things to consider if you haven't seen them.
 

Stella774

Visitor
There is a great new race, several interesting new diebestetest backgrounds, and great ways to add evolving mobile headquarters to a campaign. All things to consider if you haven't seen them.
I actually preferred the abilities they offered on the preview bookmarks. They were all "x times / day, you can do a thing." In the book, many of them are now "do a skill check. If you fail, too bad. If you succeed, you do a thing and can't do it again for 7 days." I feel like this over complicates things. First, let the expert do their thing, there are already too many unnecessary skill checks (XGE says DC 10 check to "create a typical meal" for someone proficient with Cook's Utensils? Really? I've never had special training with cooking tools, and I've never once failed to create a meal).
 

D1Tremere

Visitor
I actually preferred the abilities they offered on the preview bookmarks. They were all "x times / day, you can do a thing." In the book, many of them are now "do a skill check. If you fail, too bad. If you succeed, you do a thing and can't do it again for 7 days." I feel like this over complicates things. First, let the expert do their thing, there are already too many unnecessary skill checks (XGE says DC 10 check to "create a typical meal" for someone proficient with Cook's Utensils? Really? I've never had special training with cooking tools, and I've never once failed to create a meal).
The abilities on the bookmarks were terrible in my opinion. They were all combat abilities with no narrative value, and seemed tacked on to the point of overlapping. That said, you can always replace the book abilities with the bookmark abilities. I have included a brief and copyright respectful list of changes below. Only 1 ability has a 7 day use, and that is only if it succeeds in producing a free spell scroll. In general I find the final version abilities to be both narrative useful and a bit more powerful (they are higher level abilities).

Occultant (Beads of Instant Karma) same, Cartographer (Map of Shortcuts) Reworked and requires a skill check but functions 1/long rest, Decisionist (Better Odds) Reworked and requires a skill check but functions 1/day, Documancer (Scroll Service) Requires a skill check now and usable 1/ 7 days if you succeed or 1/day if you fail, Hoardsperson (That Thing You Need) Changed from 3/day to 5/day with added skill check, Loremonger (Whispered Encyclopedia) reworked and requires a skill check usable 1/day, Obviator (Read the Opposition) reworked to require a skill check usable 1/long rest, Secretarian (Charming Introduction) Reworked as charm person usable as many times per day as you have business cards.
 
I heard about this Aquisitions Incorporated for ages and only looked up what they are when they got on the Neverwinter MMO too. Man, this is just a bunch of unfunny youtubers. Boggles the mind why they have such a following, or why this idea even warrants a book. It's just an organization for adventuring. There already ARE such organizations in the Forgotten Realms.
 

D1Tremere

Visitor
I heard about this Aquisitions Incorporated for ages and only looked up what they are when they got on the Neverwinter MMO too. Man, this is just a bunch of unfunny youtubers. Boggles the mind why they have such a following, or why this idea even warrants a book. It's just an organization for adventuring. There already ARE such organizations in the Forgotten Realms.
That is definitely one opinion and outlook. It is not the only one, which is the answer to your boggle as to why they have such a following and why it warrants a book. A great many, including myself, find them funny. I would also argue that while Forgotten Realms has adventuring organizations, there are none quite like this. There are also few if any books that focus on the structure of such an organization. The closest thing in 5E would be the factions in Dragon Heist, but this is a lot more diverse and developed than those. Combined with those it really helps to tie players into the life of a world and the NPCs that inhabit it. The backgrounds are also some of the best in my opinion.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
The abilities on the bookmarks were terrible in my opinion. They were all combat abilities with no narrative value, and seemed tacked on to the point of overlapping. That said, you can always replace the book abilities with the bookmark abilities. I have included a brief and copyright respectful list of changes below. Only 1 ability has a 7 day use, and that is only if it succeeds in producing a free spell scroll. In general I find the final version abilities to be both narrative useful and a bit more powerful (they are higher level abilities).

Occultant (Beads of Instant Karma) same, Cartographer (Map of Shortcuts) Reworked and requires a skill check but functions 1/long rest, Decisionist (Better Odds) Reworked and requires a skill check but functions 1/day, Documancer (Scroll Service) Requires a skill check now and usable 1/ 7 days if you succeed or 1/day if you fail, Hoardsperson (That Thing You Need) Changed from 3/day to 5/day with added skill check, Loremonger (Whispered Encyclopedia) reworked and requires a skill check usable 1/day, Obviator (Read the Opposition) reworked to require a skill check usable 1/long rest, Secretarian (Charming Introduction) Reworked as charm person usable as many times per day as you have business cards.
The real point I was trying to make, and I guess not doing a terribly good job of it, was that they were elegant in their simplicity. Five of the roles now have at least one ability that takes seven days to recharge, and many more require ability checks (with "you can't try again until the next day" results on failure).

I was also expecting abilities where you could add your position rank to the role, since that's how Jerry handles it. I think I preferred that.

To be clear, I do love the C Team and enjoyed the book, I just found myself disappointed in the final decisions made for the roles. I think I will just have to design new roles for myself. Where I do agree with you is that the bookmark roles focused too much on combat. My redesign will basically be:

Two tools apply to a position. Pick one. You get proficiency and equipment for that tool.
Level 1: You add your rank to checks you make with that tool or the relevant skill.
Level 2: You get a 1/day spell or spell-like ability on the order of a cantrip if you have a lot of choice (e.g. documancer scroll), or a first level spell if you just get one option (e.g. charm person for the secretarian).
Level 3: Still 1/day, but now you have another option that's one level higher.
etc.

There will be more nuance to some roles, but that will be the general template. I can type them up if you're interested (new thread, probably), but I wouldn't necessarily expect you to be if you're happy with the rules they decided on.
 

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