There are a multitude of Dungeons and Dragons actual plays (a genre of podcasts or web shows that feature people playing tabletop role-playing games for an audience), but the earliest was Acquisitions Incorporated which started in 2008 during Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition with a Penny Arcade podcast. It is now rebooting itself with a high production format following a successful Kickstarter with a second series. As most of our readers know, Penny Arcade had started as a webcomic written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik but has since expanded into gaming conventions like PAX (originally Penny Arcade Expo).
Editor’s Note: Check out our coverage of PAX Unplugged.
Acquisitions Incorporated, the podcast, began with Chris Perkins, long time adventure writer for Dungeons and Dragons, who is now Wizards of the Coast’s Senior Story Designer, as the Dungeon Master. Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik and cartoonist Scott Kurtz were the first players. There is an online history of these actual plays with a portfolio on the Acquisitions Incorporated website. And this timeline shows the podcast grow into live performances in front of crowds at PAX.
The Acquisitions Incorporated supplement for Dungeons and Dragons is a comedic world that parodies corporate culture by mashing it with the looting, mercenary aspects of Dungeons and Dragons. It is, after all, a game where characters gain levels by killing monsters and getting treasure. For the podcast, Jerry Holkins’ character, Omin Dran, is the founder and CEO of this adventuring company that has spawned many other actual play franchises over the years. It also had many DMs, the last being Jeremy Crawford, Rules Designer for Dungeons and Dragons.
The central conceit of Acquisitions Incorporated is that of a corporation of dungeon delvers who worry more about the bottom line of their fictional company than of saving the world. The various adventuring parties are franchises who must work within unfair contracts and terrible working conditions while engaged in cynical public relations campaigns in the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse. Satire and irony, both situational and dramatic, fill the episodes. Different players like Patrick Rothfuss, Wil Wheaton, Holly Conrad and Morgan Webb have all been “employees” over the years.
If some of the more serious actual plays push dark themes and pathos like “Game of Thrones,” Acquisitions Incorporated is more self-aware and sarcastic, like “The Office.” Wizards of the Coast even released a book codifying it for other players.
The newest incarnation of Acquisitions Incorporated is set in the oldest official setting of Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk. The reboot brings the previously high level characters back down to third level. It does this through a typically convoluted Dungeons and Dragons plot, via planar and time travel, powered by a backfired wish spell.
Chris Perkins, the original and now returning Dungeon Master, sets the scene for this new outing by stating to a PAX audience at the end of Series One, that the world of Greyhawk gave us such legendary Dungeons and Dragons characters like Tasha, Mordenkainen and Bigby. “Heroes of all stripes, even those of morally gray fiber, can make their mark and even gain a measure of infamy by plundering dungeons and slaying monsters,” Perkins said. He also told the crowd at PAX he knows this is a cliche, but counters that by adding, “Greyhawk is the original campaign setting, it is the stuff cliches are made of.”
For the first new YouTube episode, Chris Perkins reappeared as the Dungeon Master. The final capstone of the first series lists the dramatis personae as:
- Omin Dran: half-elf cleric. Founder and CEO. Played by Jerry Holkins. @TychoBrahe
- Evelyn Marthain: human paladin. Ray of Sunshine. Played by Anna Prosser. @AnnaProsser
- Bobbie Zimmeruski: goliath barbarian. Cheese Eater. Played by WWE Superstar Xavier Woods. @austincreedwins
- Certainty Dran: quarter aasimar, quarter elf, half human. Business-savvy Paranormal Investigator. Played by Jasmine Bhullar. @ThatBronzeGirl
- Vi: gnome artificer. Smokin’ plane hopper. Played by Jeremy Crawford. @JeremyECrawford
- Original DM Daddy: Dungeon Master Christopher Perkins. @ChrisPerkinsDnD
Acquisitions Incorporated’s second series first episode, “Crystal Clear,” finds Jerry Holkins as Omin Dran (Boss) in a cleric crisis where he has secretly changed deities from goddess of luck Tymora to the sinister Asmodeus. He describes this change in his status as, “It’s that mid-life sort of thing, like career change…” He is like a corporate CEO whose company’s stock price has tumbled, and he is working to climb it back to its previous worth.
Jasmine Bhullar’s new sheet for Certainty Dran reads “Wizarding Bard, raised (spoiled) by Omin and Faerun-Jim.” Bhullar describes her character as a “high-functioning femme energy, nepo baby” who “recently tried to mint and sell time.” Bhullar’s Certainty reinforces the corporate speak of Jerry’s Omin with a funny family dynamic. Bhullar has written lore creation for Critical Role’s Marquet setting and runs her own actual play called Shikar.
Anna Prosser plays Evelyn Marthain, paladin and the party’s guardian. Prosser describes Evelyn as “she really loves love and is fatally optimistic…and carries lots of weapons.” Prosser began her character of Evelyn in a different actual play, the amazing “Dice, Camera, Action.”
In that game, Chris Perkins routinely put his players through tragic, tortuous and darkly comic situations, starting in Strahd’s Barovia, with a mix of mirth and mercilessness. Dice, Camera, Action was sponsored by Wizards of the Coast and ran from 2016 to 2019.
Mike Krahulik, who took time off from Acquisitions Incorporated returns as a kind of Loki variant of his character Jim Darkmagic called Jim Dark Majiq who is, according to his introduction, “Greyhawk’s most famous magician. Two wands, infinite doves, one vegan-leather jacket. Thinks he’s in an immersive-theater experience.” The character has been around from the beginning of the series but has been killed, cloned, sent to hell to settle a deal Omin had with Asmodeus and, worst of all, been an NPC.
This episode is like the early podcasts, no audience and brief. It is fun and keeps to an hour. I missed that Xavier Woods wasn’t there portraying his chaotic Barbarian Bobbie Zimmeruski, but I hope to see him in future episodes, especially at the live audiences for PAX. I also hope that future episodes really take advantage of Greyhawk. My favorite element of that city was that no nobles ran it like most other fantasy settings. It had a mayor that was elected from the city guilds that both complimented and competed with each other. This seems something right in spirit with Acquisitions Incorporated.
The second season show also has a short after show called Accounts Playable. Host Laura Stringer announces its purpose as “Where we take STOCK…of our latest episode.” It takes the corporate conceit of Acquisitions Incorporated into the real world with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik commenting and joking about this new venture. Stringer sets the perfect tone for this first after show by pointing out the convoluted past of the characters and going over the newest offering.
Two more episodes have already dropped at the time of the writing of this article, but I don’t want to spoil too much of the series. All I’ll say is that Jeremy Crawford reappears as the DM, and the outer planes start to reappear as a driver of the action. This is just in time for Dungeons and Dragons reintroduction of the Planescape setting.
If you like TTRPG Actual Plays and want to enjoy one that takes its tone from our present corporate world, then this is worth a watch. Acquisitions Incorporated has a backlog of many episodes and promises some funny future entertainment.