Tired of the same old routine in the dungeon? Sick of fighting giant rats every day for a few measly copper coins? Ready to make a change and chase Opportunity™? Then Acquisitions Incorporated is the perfect fit! After years of adventuring across Faerûn and even the multiverse, our company is now offering franchise opportunities near you. Seize the chance at amazing profit by applying at the Head Office today, because there are always positions open . . . just try not to think about why. Not convinced? Then how about a chapter by chapter review of the Acquisitions Incorporated book for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, brought to you by Wizards of the Coast and Penny Arcade!
Chapters 1 and 2: Acquisition Incorporated and Growing Your Franchise
The first chapter has your intro, your summary of the book, and a history of Acquisitions Incorporated – both in-universe and in real life. For the Acq Inc neophyte, it does a great job at establishing the tone of the book, as well as establishing the background information needed. For fans like myself who haven’t seen every single session, it’s still a fun read. For die-hards who have seen everything, there’s probably some nostalgia value, but you could skip it. The chapter wraps itself up by Page 8 with several 1d6 to 1d10 random tables that function as a Fast Franchise Generator – where HQ is, who the majordomo is, the identity of a reliable connection – so you can set things up and get started quickly.
Chapter 2 is all about your™ Acquisitions Incorporated franchise! Your franchise has a Rank, starting at 1 and typically rising with each new tier of play (when characters reach levels 5, 11, and 17), although the DM is invited to fiddle with the numbers or tie gaining Ranks to story goals. The higher your Franchise Rank, the more personnel it has (a majordomo and three hirelings at Rank 1 but a majordomo, twenty hirelings, and twenty crew by Rank 4), and the more territory is considered yours (from a single settlement to a large territory with limited extraplanar authority). Your headquarters starts off as very basic, like an old tavern or a worn carriage and horses, but as you gain Franchise Ranks it expands and gains cosmetic, arcane, offensive, defensive, and even transportation features. A franchise also has costs, though, modified by the type of HQ and your Franchise Rank; miss a payment and Head Office might send in the legbreakers.
Each character also chooses a Company Position when they join Acquisitions Incorporated, and these Positions also have Ranks that are gained alongside Franchise Ranks. If you remember when Themes showed up in 4th Edition, those are probably the next closest model, a kind of secondary class in addition to whatever else you have going on. Unlike Themes however, which gave you something to start off with and then merely presented more options later on, you get everything your Position has to offer. Each one gives you an Essential Function within the company, some Position Proficiencies, proficiency with at least one set of tools, a unique ability, a magical item, and then some features/abilities related to those last three.
Take, for example the Documancer. This Position’s Essential Function is to record information, such as tracking the franchise’s jobs and quest details. Its Position Proficiency applies the character’s Proficiency Bonus to any check made to organize lore, analyze official/arcane documents, or convey a legally binding point of view. A Documancer gains proficiency with calligrapher’s supplies (as well as access to them), and advantage on deciphering codes. By Rank 2 you get a documancy satchel that lets you produce pre-written contracts from the Head Office at request, and you’ve gained a Head-Office-centric version of augury. At Rank 3 your satchel also functions as a bag of holding and can produce a scroll spell of comprehend languages, and you also gain proficiency with a forger’s kit (one of which is now always hidden in your satchel). At Rank 4 your satchel gains a separate compartment that can hold up to thirty spell scrolls, and can also have Head Office send you a spell scroll of up to 3rd level at your request. Each Position also has two 1d8 tables that establish both a quirk (Favorite Method to Destroy Documents) and a motivation (Why Be A Documancer).
Overall I really like the Positions. Not only do they give characters a lot of bonuses, they also give them a lot to do, leveraging their connections to Acq Inc for the betterment of the party/franchise. Of course, adventuring isn’t the be-all-end-all to running a franchise.
The chapter ends with Franchise Tasks and Downtime, a whole slew of downtime activities focused on the franchise itself. These Tasks can be performed by player characters as well as franchise staff (all the more reason to recruit good employees), and each takes a certain amount of time ranging from a few days to a full workweek or more. Of course, if you’re out adventuring you can’t perform Franchise Tasks, so a good Acq Inq adventurer is going to want to balance their time out in the field vs. working on the franchise. One Franchise Task, Running a Franchise, has to be rolled for every month regardless of whether or not anything is getting done around HQ, and your monthly costs could skyrocket if it goes poorly. Other Franchise Tasks range from Explore Territory to find opportunities nearby to Marketeering to get the word out to customers, from Philanthropic Exercise to build good will to Shady Business Practice to rake in less-than-legal profits.
The mechanics of success differ (some Tasks needs a certain number of successes, others need a certain total on a single check), but all are based around plans the players come up with and the rolls and challenges the DM decides are needed to succeed, with a range of results from disastrous failure to runaway success and a 1d6 list of Complications that can come up for poor results (or just because the DM thinks they’d be appropriate/interesting). I love these things. Like the Positions they give players a ton to do, with a lot of opportunities for creativity, roleplaying, fun sidequests, and story hook creation.
Just try not to get into fights during the Team Building exercises.
Chapter 3: Player Options
First up: new backgrounds! All of them focus on one or more aspects of adventuring as a corporate, money-making venture, although the angles they take are pretty unique. There’s the Celebrity Adventurer Scion (think the child of Jim Darkmagic or Drizzt Do’Urden), whose feature is about Name Dropping their famous parent and whose traits are about dealing with fame and expectations. You might instead be a Failed Merchant, taking a much more aggressive stance on profit earning, but still maintaining a Supply Chain. Several of these backgrounds directly tie your backstory to Acquisitions Incorporated, though. The Plaintiff was the ‘victim of a legal incident that was ostensibly the fault” of Acq Inc, but have been offered a job to smooth things over and learned how to babble in Legalese. The Rival Intern, meanwhile, used to work for a rival company such as Dran Enterprises, and can be an Inside Informant via their old contacts.
The chapter then addresses each of the core classes, talking about how they fit in the corporate structure and also giving them a little bit of extra flavor. The Barbarian, for instance, gets a signature item (such as a calling card with their name on it) to leave behind to claim their work, while also getting some corporate style like a fur-lined, double breasted suit with the corporate logo on the pocket. The Paladin gets some Terrible Secret that may put pressure on them, but they also get a Legendary Catchphrase (“‘Surrender’ is my middle name, but it was a family thing and I never use it!”), which is always important for branding.
Next is something of a curveball, a new race called the Verdan. Originally a group of goblins and hobgoblins, these creatures were affected by an eldritch chaos being known as That-Which-Endures, mutating them and wiping memory of their history. They continue to change, often shifting shape, color, and gender as they age, and their mutations also grant a number of other abilities such as limited telepathy and boosted healing. With a clean slate thanks to their memories, the verdan wander from place to place, fitting in where they can and gaining a reputation for being trustworthy (two of the headers in their section are Cultural Chameleons and Wide-Eyed and Curious). In addition to their other abilities, the verdan gain +1 Constitution, +2 Charisma, proficiency in Persuasion, and advantage on Wisdom and Charisma saving throws (there are no subraces to speak of). The verdan were a surprise (I read around a bit and they supposedly have their origin from an unresolved plot thread from the “C” Team), but they’re mechanically sound and seem like a pretty cool and unique thing to try out.
We also get some new spells! Not a lot of them, and they’re all pretty low-level so that you can get to them fast, but they seem pretty fun. Distort value can make an item appear much more or much less valuable for purposes of selling and buying, while incite greed causes onlookers to stare greedily at a gem in your hand, drawing them in. There are also new spells with a ‘Royalty’ component, which yoinks a gold coin or two from your purse whenever you use them. Jim’s magic missile is one such spell, offering potential extra crit damage in exchange for getting Darkmagic some pocket change.
The final part of Chapter 3 is Factions and Rivals, which provides information on Acq Inc itself along with other organizations like Dran Enterprises, The Noble Knife, The Silver Sliver, and The Six. Not really player options, per se, but it’s a useful primer that also comes in handy in the next chapter.
Chapter 4: The Orrery of the Wanderer
By just a sliver this chapter actually ends up being most of the book, 117 of its 224 pages: an Acq Inc adventure running from levels 1 through 6. I’m not going to go into too much plot detail, because that would spoil things for any players who might find themselves running through it, but I want to cover the basics and what makes The Orrery of the Wanderer stand out.
The actual plot of the adventure hits some pretty familiar beats, and it’s not shy about doing it either: a case of mistaken identity, a larger plot that the characters stumble upon during a ‘simple’ job, an artifact of dangerous power scattered into pieces that has to be reassembled, a fight to save the world. Those are the bones of TOotW, and there’s nothing particularly new about them, but it’s what’s built upon them that matters. The adventure uses ‘milestone’ leveling up, so it’s divided into six Episodes, one for each level of play during the adventure (completing Episode 6 will see the characters reaching Level 7).
Aside from the general tone of the adventure, which is extremely tongue in cheek while also being deadly serious for the characters in the mix and Faerûn at large, what makes TOotW stand out are the individual setpieces of those Episodes. You’ve got pretty ‘normal’ scenarios, like delving into a ransacked manor or an airship battle, but then you’ve got a race through an entire network of portals, a casino run by an undead entrepreneur, dating advice for a horror of the deep, and a reality-bending trap where every door leads to strange alternate worlds. My personal favorite? A scenario where Plan A, the default plan that the adventure assumes you’ll be going with, is to use a ritual to send the consciousness of the player characters into the bodies of a wedding party so they can infiltrate a location to find part of the McGuffin – and they still have to deal with all the impulses and secrets of their temporary hosts.
There are also some parts that are very open-ended. For the most part the adventure is on pretty loose rails, guiding the party along while still giving them wiggle room to come up with their own plans and make their own choices. In between episodes, though, things get much more freeform. First, there’s the chance to use those rules for Franchise Tasks mentioned above, which ties the player’s section and the DM’s section together. But second, there are some goals to be taken care of that are entirely up to the DM and the players to figure out. There’s a ritual, for one example, that the party finds out about and has to assemble the components for if they want to use it. What those components are, and what it takes to find them, however, is left up to the table. A sidequest of whatever flavor you want, basically, and there are several such opportunities to be creative with the adventure.
Finally, the adventure is filled with Opportunity™. Not only are you creating your own franchise of Acq Inc and taking up positions in the company, but you then get to grow and expand that franchise. Many, many of the NPCs and scenarios are built with hooks to do business with them later, or even recruit them as interns or crew for the franchise. The DM is encouraged to bring back any NPC the players take a shine to, which nips that particular age old problem in the bud. A lot of hostile characters, meanwhile, don’t need to be killed. The win condition for their scenarios involves driving them off or beating them to something, and a number of dangerous foes are equipped to rabbit when they’re truly threatened, preserving them for post-Orrery play. The ‘Campaign to Come’ section offers a pretty diverse range of hooks for the newly 7th level characters to start pulling on, continuing the story.
We’ve got five Appendices to close out the book. A and B are stats for Acq Inq characters from Omin Dran to the “C” and “B” teams and Monsters from the deep crow to the keg robot, respectively. Appendix B actually wraps up with Iconic character templates for the DM to use, both characters based on faction (such as an Iconic Noble Knife Agent) and on Acq Inc franchise position (such as the Iconic Hoardperson). Appendix C is Vehicles, in specific the Battle Balloon airship and the Mechanical Beholder. The Balloon stands out as a good example of a mobile headquarters, and also for its use in TOotW.
Appendix D is all about the actual Orrery of the Wanderer wondrous item and all its components. Each component (there are six of them) has a few static bonuses and then two powers. For instance, the dimensional loop grants a +1 to Strength saving throws, with a dimensional cloak that grants advantage on Stealth checks for a minute as a bonus action and the ability to move to or interact with any space within 60’. Each component also has a note that its abilities may not be reliable if the orrery is split apart, with how that unreliability manifests being up to the DM. That carries through to the core features of the item: they’re not defined. The properties are randomly determined, and are only defined as two minor beneficial, one major beneficial, and one major detrimental feature. Again, how these features behave depending on the status of the orrery is up to the DM, another manifestation of the outlined-but-open creativity left to every table.
Appendix E sends us off with a new 1d100 table of Trinkets for player characters to get. Not much to be said about this, except that I’m almost always happy to get another 1d100 table of Trinkets, and they didn’t let me down.
Acquisitions Incorporated for 5th Edition D&D is one of those products that has, broadly speaking, two potential audiences: people who are already fans of Acq Inc and those who would be new to the entire thing. In the case of the former: yeah, this is a win. You get everything you need to play in the same universe and alongside the same characters and archetypes that you’ve been listening to and watching for the past decade or so. You’re going to enjoy the new character options, the tone, the adventure, meeting Jim Darkmagic and getting his autograph, the whole bit.
For the latter, I think this is a win as well, partially because of the unique tone that’ll also make the fans happy, but largely because of the quality of the material. It’s a point I’ve made already a few times, but the Company Positions and Franchise Tasks give characters a lot to keep busy with (not to mention the fact that franchise fees give them something to spend their gold on that’s worthwhile and keeps them hungry for more profits), and The Orrery of the Wanderer seems like a really fun adventure that can also kickstart many future adventures. Not that these things aren’t important to the fans, but without them the book would be a non-starter for newcomers, and I’m glad they avoided that pitfall.
I have one criticism of the book, and it’s focused on the adventure while not really being something the writers could fix: while the specific locations visited in The Orrery of the Wanderer are very well detailed, this is a Forgotten Realms book, but it’s not a proper setting book. There are a number of times that the book, rather than going into much detail about a city like Waterdeep or Neverwinter or Mantol-Derith, points you towards another product like Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, or Out of the Abyss for more information.
What this means, really, is that if you want to go off the rails or explore certain locations during the more freeform sections you’ll either A) need to have more books than the requisite core three, B) do some research or have pre-existing knowledge of the setting, or C) make some stuff up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with C, and it’s not like they could fit everything about Faerûn in here, it’s just something you should probably know about going in.
And, not to be overlooked, the book is good to look at. Krahulik and Straub are joined by a swathe of other talented illustrators, there’s some great cartography, and there’s oodles of flavor text from Acq Inc characters sprinkled throughout.
Acquire™ a copy of Acquisitions Incorporated today, build your franchise, and remember: always be branding!
Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You could travel through one of our fine and elegantly crafted links to DriveThruRPG which, thanks to our Affiliate partnership with them, gets us funds to get more games to review! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!