This review was put together by special request. So before we dig in, I’ll add some context. I love the idea of running a business in D&D, and am consistently disappointed in the rules I find. The idea of clearing a silver mine of zombies, declaring it mine, and getting some passive income seems like a cool way to get folks invested in the setting. Beyond your “what’s in the next room and can we kill it” dungeon crawls. Even better if I can also rid some nearby trade routes of bandits, hire some folks to patrol them, and then see an increase in my silver mine profits, while endearing myself to some locals. I’m also very into the idea of a clubhouse and base of operations for my games. What else am I supposed to do with all this gold? Donate it? Nope, I want a mile high wizards tower made from rubies, and then coated with gold. Even more though, if I spent all that money to build a flaming dojo staffed by Efreeti monks, I want more than just roleplay hooks. I want to be able to learn the flaming fist strike, and have my disciples who practice there learn it too. And finally, I don’t want to have to rely on a DM making something up. This was my mindset going in, prior to really thinking about it, and pulling it off my big stack of “to read” RPG books.
I don’t watch the Acquisitions Inc shows, so I basically ignored this product. Apparently its got what I want, but the only way to get me to read it was to appeal to my vanity by claiming to want a review. Prior to this review I’ve skimmed it here and there, but never really dug deep. I’ll also highlight that I’m not going to review the adventure at the back of the book.
Chapter 1: Acquisitions Incorporated
“The Penny Arcade Guys” are funny enough most of the time, and this is a quick chapter that assures you they will bring it to this book. They write up a humorous in universe business pitch for who you are and what you are doing. Its certainly a good hook for running an Acq Inc game. Essentially, Acq Inc is a megacorp straight from a cyberpunk future, inserted into a relatively generic D&D setting. Profit for the top matters, and everyone else is expendable. The tone reminds me of Paranoia, with the blend of chipper happiness tone and a bleak uncaring message.
This chapter has a franchise generator for you, if you need one quick and ready. Mine uses a winking Jim Darkmagic (one of their pet NPCs) as its logo, is headquartered in a battle-worn castle that is filled with the marketing material of our rivals (who we apparently just recently stole it from), and run by the ghost of the previous owner who specifically does a terrible job (seems right, if we killed him and took his castle). I can run with that, and got a pretty funny, and enjoyable franchise out of it.
Chapter 2: Growing your Franchise
You operate a Franchise of Acq Inc, on premise, and its one of the first things I’d change if I actually ran a game. I don’t particularly want to play a cog in the machine. I’d rather play the guy at the top. In fact, the first campaign idea I came up with, would be getting franchised by Acq Inc, and immediately stealing from them to set up your own, competing org (especially since, based on what I know of the setting Omin isn’t the best employer).
Mechanically, your franchise has a rank (1-4), and a licensed region. You get licensed to work in geographic areas, and as your players level up, their franchise rises along with them. As your franchise rank goes up, you get new staff, increased costs, and upgraded headquarters features. Actual rule 1 in the book is immediately accompanied by Krusk’s house rule #1. Decouple player power to franchise rank. Just like I have players level after milestones, I’d do the same for your franchise. As is, if you wander about gaining XP and never touch your franchise, it still levels. On the flip side, if you focus 100% on your franchise, and ignore unrelated side quests, it actually levels slower. Franchise milestones might be different than player character milestones, but I’d still want it to be theoretically possible that the players are over their head (level 1 with an extraplanar franchise) or doing poorly (level 20 and stuck in a local settlement). Broadly speaking, I like the idea of the franchise being a specific thing. It’s going to have a character sheet, and its going to get ranks which give it stuff.
This chapter has some good DMing advice about how to run hirelings and NPCs, and I really like the theme of pushing the players as the stars of the operation. We get some example headquarters as well. Here I’d have liked to see more crunch. All the example HQ locations are cool and interesting, even at level 1, but there are only 4. Each of them get cosmetic features, but we only get 2 examples. Then at Rank 2, you get “expansion features” which translates to “bigger base”, mobility features giving magical movement modes for your HQ, and weapon features, giving your HQ attack powers. At rank 3 you get magic features and defensive features, and at level 4 you get a “secret feature” like escape pods. I would hope this would be the meat of a book like this. Personally, I’d be targeting 5-10 options for each choice, instead of the 2-4 they provide. They do say the DM can make something up, but I paid money for a book, so that’s a pretty lousy substitute. There’s some cool stuff here about making your base cool, I just want more of it. One thing I found lacking was a “rooms” section. Something to indicate that I put a library, dojo, temple, whatever inside our HQ and how that helps me.
Each player is given a company position. Its sort of an additional background, that players can take to bring business stuff to the team. They are a little more impactful than backgrounds, and you can gain ranks whenever your franchise ranks up automatically. I personally think something like this is really needed. At one point, one of my heartbreakers experimented with the dual class idea. You get a fighting class, and a talking class. In a normal game pretty much every character has stuff to do in a fight, but not a lot have stuff to do outside it. This is a decent attempt to fix that, and I think it bolts on nicely. I think its weird its tied specifically to your franchise rank, which is a derived value from your character level, and would have actually tied this to your character level. But it makes sense in scope of running an Acq Inc game by the book. Each rank in your position unlocks a new power, and most are focused on business stuff. The Cartographer gets some proficiencies, starting equipment, and the ability to requisition stuff paid for by the head office. Rank 2 you get a magic spyglass you an use for some lite scrying, and what amounts to a fast travel power. Rank 3, you get faster fast travel, and a bag of random appropriate maps you can draw from that just so happens to be of the area you’re in, and at rank 4 you get more fast travel powers. A loremonger gets various lore based powers, similar to the map class getting map powers. Overall I’m for it, and they provide 8 to pick from. That’s about the minimum I’d take, and would personally have shot for about 26 (2 per class) so you don’t always have the same few in every game.
All franchises are assigned tasks. The idea here is that since downtime between adventures is supposed to be a big part of the campaign, tasks give you something to do. You’ve got normal DMG downtime activities, but can also focus on these tasks. Based on your franchises rank, you have a limit on the number of tasks you can undertake, and they become a narrative response to “what did you do between adventures?” Its very hand wavy and rules light, but its essentially crafting a shared narrative. The franchise has a task, which has goals, an opening scene, a couple of ability checks and a concluding scene. Examples include things like exploring, or restructuring your franchise. Exploring requires a week and 200gp per rank. Whoever is in charge of exploring makes a Wisdom (Survival) check and you compare to the result. You might find a major threat, which hampers your profits, increasing costs by 50% until you go resolve it. You might also find a natural feature, like timber, which lower your monthly costs for a short period, or provide abstract DM made benefits. Like a tall spire of rock you can turn into a watch tower. Overall I’m torn on these. They are super simple and easy to use, which I like, but the impact isn’t as long lasting as I’d like. I can see them being fun, but I can also quickly see your group finding the 2-3 that you always do, and just repeating them. I think I’m for these in general, but House Rule #2 would be to get rid of the level limit on the number you can have going on at a given time.
This section can be considered almost the entirety of the book. If you’re thinking of playing, but you have low effort players, you can have them read this and get the gist.
Chapter 3 Player Options
The first player option is additional backgrounds. I’m always for that, and some of these are fun. Like Celebrity Adventurer’s Scion, which gives you the ability to name drop powerful people.
Next we have additional player class options. Unfortunately, they aren’t new classes, they are refluffing advice for existing classes. Like having your barbarian give up calling their ancestors for advice, and instead call HQ. Its a fun step away, but they spend 20 pages on it, and I’d have much rather had new classes, or more of any of the previous content. Slipped in here, is a new race, the Verdan. I don’t particularly care, but the gist is they are goblins who got hit with chaos and sent to Faerun. I’m assuming its from the show, and if you know it you’ll love them. Then, like every D&D book we get some new spells.
Wrapping up chapter 3 is factions, and the inclusion here is nice because it gives you some built in rivals. It also feeds back into my desire to run a “we run our own company” campaign from earlier. There are 6 presented with a paragraph or so each, so not a ton to go off, but enough to jump from. That seems like a reasonable number of factions, and I appreciate that they didn’t spend pages and pages on lore that folks will probably skip.
Chapter 4: The Orrery of the Wanderer
The book is 224 pages long, and this adventure is 117 pages long. Its over half the book, which is frankly too much. I was hoping for how to run an Acq Inc game, and I suspect this is the reason a lot of people gloss over the book or dismiss it as not highly recommended. A module is cool, but I wasn’t really looking for an adventure. A couple of quick 2-3 page ones would be one thing, but this is almost like reviewing a comedy to find out right around halfway, you were actually in a drama.
Skimming the adventure, the art is sweet, and the concept seems really fun. It highlights their Acq Inc structure and if you’re a fan of the series I’m sure its full of call outs. I’m just not really qualified to review a module set in a series I didn’t watch.
If you like Acquisitions Incorporated, this should be a no brainer. The books great, has stats for all your favorite NPCs, and a bunch of cool lore stuff. I came into this hoping for a book that gives me rules for running a business, and building club houses. It touches on those, but really focuses on you working as a franchise of the bigger corp. My main complaint would be the lack of lasting impact the various tasks have. You do stuff, but the impact fades quickly. I might even suggest a house rule to just not have effects of the task fade on their own, for the ones that do. I also think some form of expansion task is needed, so I can set up satellite offices, or build a castle somewhere in addition to my giant mech statue.
Overall what stuff I did like was lacking in volume, but nothing stands out as egregiously bad, or poorly done. Just … sparse. I can tell it would be fun to play in one of the authors games, but it seems really reliant on the DM making cool stuff up. I could see using it as the chassis for future rules and really expanding on it, but as is, its not a whole ton better than just telling folks to watch the show and wing it.