“Welcome to the world’s ‘smallest’ Dungeons & Dragons game! I am Chris Perkins, your merciful and humble DM.”
The year was 2008. The fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons was fresh on the market. Facebook was only just becoming a cultural sensation, and Twitter was still in its infancy. The internet had yet to be transformed by social media, and the D&D renaissance that Critical Role kicked into high gear following the release of fifth edition was still years in the future.
2008 was the first year I attended the Penny Arcade Expo, now known as PAX West (and then known as PAX Prime), a video game convention in Seattle, Washington created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, authors of the webcomic Penny Arcade. And it was there that I learned about a game called Dungeons & Dragons, and a podcast called Acquisitions Incorporated—or Acq Inc., as my friends and I called it.
The Start of an Era
In June of that year, just a few months before I arrived at the Washington State Convention Center with my PAX badge, Chris Perkins played a game of Dungeons & Dragons with Jerry Holkins, Mike Krahulik, and webcomic artist Scott Kurtz. They chose from pregenerated character sheets and filled in the rest of the details themselves, and the three players eventually became Omin Dran, half-elf cleric of Tymora, Jim Darkmagic, wizard extraordinaire, and Binwin Bronzebottom, a dwarf.
(I kid, Binwin Bronzebottom is an absolutely kickass dude. But I still think he should’ve been named Mayward Shortypants.)
Together, these three formed the adventuring company ACQUISITIONS INCORPORATED, with Omin Dran as their CEO. Over the course of 3 seasons of this podcast, Acquisitions Inc. went on many great adventures, eventually adding actor Wil Wheaton to their band as Aeofel Elhromane, the eladrin avenger. I didn’t listen to the podcast back then because I was too “busy” running my own D&D game (“too busy,” how naive!), but I was always vaguely aware of it in the periphery of my gaming consciousness. It was a lot easier to forget about podcasts back before social media was big.
Two years later, at PAX Prime 2010, I saw Acquisitions Inc. live.
It was a D&D game played in the Paramount Theater. I couldn’t believe it. The Paramount Theater! Touring Broadway shows were put on in this theater. I saw Les Mis there, and now I was watching five dudes play D&D on that stage! They were rescuing Wil Wheaton’s character from Hell, since he had been dissolved in a pit of acid at the end of last season. Even as someone who hadn’t kept up with the podcast in the slightest, the story was easy enough to fall into. The characters were fairly simple and the plot was straightforward, and both were clearly introduced to the cheering audience before the game began.
Honestly, none of us really cared too much about plot or character. We were just excited to see D&D be given such a monumental platform. The creators of Penny Arcade, the hosts of the convention, were playing D&D with the guy who was making it. And Wil Wheaton was there! It was an incredible, unforgettable, and supremely 2010 moment.
Art by Richard Whitters (@WhittersRichard)
Changing Editions and Growing the Enterprise
Over the next few years, more live games were held at PAX, and the Acquisitions Inc. crew had their characters retooled for the D&D Next playtest, and then once more for the release of fifth edition D&D. Wil Wheaton left the group, Morgan Webb joined as the new intern Môrgæn, kicking off a trend of Acquisitions Incorporated acquiring and disposing of interns without thought or care. The limited edition D&D adventure Cloud Giant’s Bargain by Teos Abadia even casts you, the player characters, as disposable Acq Inc. interns tasked with infiltrating a cloud giant’s floating castle.
These interns should unionize.
Anyway, the switch to fifth edition was accompanied by several things. The live shows moved from the Paramount Theater to Benaroya Hall, Seattle’s luxurious concert hall. More people than ever were clamoring to see the high-flying action of Acquisitions Inc. and their interns. The atmosphere was like that of a football game. It was slightly different from what I described experiencing at the live Critical Role show at Gen Con; the people at Acquisitions Inc.’s live games are here to have fun, shout “GREEN FLAME” at least once an episode, and marvel at the production value of the props and sets created by the Czar of Happiness. Actually, I take that football game comparison back. Acquisitions Inc. live shows really feel like an improvised Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast with incredible production values, complete with audience callbacks and cheering every 10 seconds—but with a tremendous lack of fishnets and corsets.
This difference in tone from shows like Critical Role is significant. Acquisitions Inc. predated Critical Role by about 7 years, and its main cast was made up not of actors but of three webcomic artists and a game designer. Since then, the main Acq Inc. team has grown to include a host of on-again, off-again characters played by actors, YouTubers, and novelists—though Patrick Rothfuss is basically a permanent member of the Acq Inc. team these days. Their live shows are the main event now, featuring huge crossovers between shows like Dice, Camera, Action—such as in last year’s PAX West game, where Holly Conrad appeared on stage in costume as Strix—and their sister show, Acquisitions Incorporated: The "C" Team.
Acquisitions Incorporated: The "C" Team
While the Acquisitions Inc. team made up of Omin Dran, Jim Darkmagic, Viari (Patrick Rothfuss), and the intern du jour mostly plays high-profile PAX shows these days, the days of a campaign-style Acq Inc. show are not over. A spinoff livestreamed show titled Acquisitions Incorporated: The "C" Team sees Jerry Holkins set down the role of Ominifus Hereward “Omin” Dran, CEO of Acquisitions Incorporated, and take up the role of Dungeon Master. His players are Kate Welch as Rosie Beestinger, halfling monk; Kris Straub as K’thriss Drow’b, drow warlock; Amy Falcone as Walnut Dankgrass (the K is silent), wood elf druid; and Ryan Hartman as Donaar Blit’zen, dragonborn narcissist (I mean "paladin"). Together, they are the "C" Team, a group of naïve new members of the Acquisitions Inc. family forming their own franchise of the company.
While the Acq Inc. live games are (for the most part) all spectacle and raucous good fun, the "C" Team provides some real emotional stakes and drama in their weekly, 3-hour livestream. The show still has all the expected Acq Inc. comedy and irreverence, but the stakes feel a little higher. The threats are more real, and the consequences more permanent.
The "C" Team streams every Wednesday from 4 to 7 PM Pacific Time on Twitch, and all their episodes are archived on the Penny Arcade YouTube channel. Personally, I don’t have a lot of time to watch tons of D&D streams, so whenever the "C Team bug bites me, I’ll watch their stylish animated recaps to catch up before jumping into the current story arc.
Long Story Short
If you’re a D&D fan attending PAX West this year (it’s just over a week away!), do yourself a favor and plan to get in line for the Acquisitions Incorporated live game. You don’t need to know much to dive right in, just this: Acquisitions Inc. is an adventuring company—and we mean company, with a CEO and everything—set in the Forgotten Realms. The main franchise was based in Waterdeep until Vanifer and the Cult of the Eternal Flame torched it. Now, with the D&D story returning to Waterdeep for Dragon Heist and Dungeon of the Mad Mage, there’s no doubt that CEO Omin Dran (Jerry Holkins), Jim Darkmagic (Mike Krahulik), swashbuckling intern Viari (Patrick Rothfuss), and a very special guest will be returning to the City of Splendors in a spectacular return to form.
Will that guest be Strix, called back to fulfill another contract? Will it be another one of the Waffle Crew, who are known to be gallivanting in Waterdeep at this very moment—or perhaps Travis McElroy of The Adventure Zone and My Brother, My Brother, And Me, who allied with the Waffle Crew at the Stream of Many Eyes? Or will it be one of the "C" Team's auspicious ranks, sent to aid the "A" Team? Your guess is as good as mine, and there’s only one way to find out!
Unless otherwise credited, all images are courtesy of Penny Arcade.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his two kitties of wondrous power, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.