If I could level one criticism at the developers of Dungeons & Dragons, it would be that their worldbuilding is sometimes very same-y. Don’t mistake me—it’s very good! But it’s also very safe, in a way that is both a major reason for the game’s enduring success and occasionally underwhelming. They sometimes reuse themes, characters, and ideas written decades ago, simply redressing them for each new edition of the game. My favorite adventures are my favorites because they do their best to buck the trend, to subvert the foundation upon which they stand.
Acquisitions Incorporated, the newest D&D worldbook—named for the renowned adventuring party turned corporation created by the architects of the popular Penny Arcade and PVP webcomics—kicks that criticism square in the teeth.
In 2009, the developers of the then-upcoming 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons partnered with the Acquisitions Incorporated creators on a real-play podcast. Chris Perkins, a Dungeon Master and Wizards of the Coast designer, helped Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, and Scott Kurtz create Omin Dran, Jim Darkmagic, and Binwin Bronzebottom, the heroes that would become the adventuring party known as Acquisitions Incorporated (Acq Inc.). They would go on to play in numerous adventures, with Perkins at the helm of their strange and comical story. Over the years, guest stars like Patrick Rothfuss, Morgan Webb, and Austin Creed added their own characters to the company’s ranks. This band of misfits has appeared on multiple podcasts and in live play events and eventually spawned Holkins’s own YouTube show, The “C” Team. This last is perhaps the most critical part of the Acq Inc. mythos, and Holkins’s efforts as that show’s DM are clearly evident in this work.
This book covers nearly all of it, from those humble beginnings to the current state of the Acq Inc. world. Acquisitions provides a great deal of background information for both DMs wishing to create an Acq Inc. franchise and players creating the characters that make up that franchise. The book also offers an intricate six-episode adventure arc that will take characters beginning as lowly interns all the way to the lofty heights of middle management.
The first portion of the book is devoted to fleshing out the Acq Inc. world. It gives a number of new and optional rules related to franchisees, from the powers and privileges that come with rising in the ranks to the increasingly magical features of the franchise headquarters to the various positions one might hold within a franchise. It also gives players new background options, new class features, flavor, spells, and even a new race that they use to build their budding corporate intern.
Fans of The “C” Team or the Acq Inc. live games streamed from every PAX show might be familiar with all of this, but a lot of Dungeons & Dragons players may not be, so this section is both essential and supremely helpful. I really like the company ranks and the options presented to the DM for how to implement them, because they help give players a connection to this nebulous entity their characters will be serving. This section also sets the tone of the entire book: one of corporate drudgery, dark humor, and lots and lots of goofs.
But as essential and interesting as the first part of Acquisitions is, its latter half is the gooey center and the heart of this worldbook. This six-part adventure for first-level characters begins with a relatively standard case of a mysterious, powerful artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands, but it quickly runs off the road of familiarity after that. Over the course of these six chapters, players will battle unknowable otherworldly entities, evade the machinations of scheming corporate rivals, and be shrunk and forced to evade an enormous, hungry house cat. This grand adventure is detailed and very well written, providing players and Dungeon Masters alike numerous opportunities to follow unwritten side paths. It encourages the DM to modify it and make it their own, something I consider a big positive at any game table. Stat blocks for most of the major names in the Acq Inc. family are also presented here.
I will, of course, note that there are two obvious omissions, which any fan of the brand will also immediately see: Binwin Bronzebottom and Aeofel Elhromane. These characters, created by Scott Kurtz and Wil Wheaton, were a big and early part of the Acq Inc. family, but neither is mentioned in this text. I don’t know precisely why neither is included, but I can’t quite call it a complete work without them. Ultimately, this is a small omission, but long-term fans may be upset to know that neither character is featured.
I’ve long felt that the success of the Acq Inc. brand has been its humor, and a commitment to that goofery is evident throughout this book. Every page drips with flavor, from pull quotes in the margins from the company’s menagerie of characters right on down to the actual prose. Here’s an example from the section detailing the rules and ranks of each franchise:
Within your licensed region, you have the right to use the full power of Acquisitions Incorporated branding. No other Acquisitions Incorporated franchise will operate in your region, and all the region’s customers are exclusively yours. Of course, non-Acquisitions Incorporated rival organizations might be present. You are expected to drive them out of business. (Or give them untimely deaths. You do you.)
This writing is delightful, and so unlike other Dungeons & Dragons worldbooks that I’m honestly a little bit shocked it even exists. This tone is established early and built into the very framework of the rules and adventures it presents, and it helps to add contrast to the often bleak and harsh lives of the average adventurer. Without this dry wit, this book probably wouldn’t work so well. The fact that it does is a testament to the cleverness of its designers and creativity of the people who laid its groundwork.
I think it would have been very easy to put out a worldbook intended just for fans of the live play and podcast content, and it probably would’ve been very good. But this book is better than very good, and I recommend it to everyone because it carries an appeal for strangers to this content and casual players alike. Long-term fans of Acq Inc. will almost certainly buy it by default. But if you’re looking to break some of the standard tropes of your fantasy tabletop game or introduce new players to a funny and strange world, don’t overlook this book. Franchise opportunities await.
Acquisitions Incorporated is available online and in game stores from Wizards of the Coast and Penny Arcade.