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Nerd Watching: Learning From Acquisitions Incorporated!

Written by Nicholas - Published on September 29, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

For those poor lost souls who are unaware of Acquisitions Incorporated, I shall briefly summarize. Acq Inc is the D&D group comprised of the Penny Arcade duo, Scott Kurtz of PVP and actor/geek icon Wil Wheaton. The exploits of the group are recorded and released in sections on the official D&D website, typically to promote the release of a specific book. The series is right in the middle of its third season with new sections coming out each Friday. You can find new and old here or on itunes (but make sure to check out the corresponding comics on the website!).

Now I think this third series is the best one yet. Partially it is to do with a new bag of tricks from Dungeon Master Chris Perkins. Listening intently I’ve picked some tricks and techniques from this session that I think could benefit those of us not DMing for internet celebrities.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the third podcast series.

DMG2 in Action

This series corresponds to the release of the DMG2 and you can see its influence on the session. Chris makes use of alternate combat goals. In the first combat of the session, the players need to get their opponent to open a magic door for them. Although he is using lethal force against the group, they need to measure their attacks and keep the objective in mind. It also allows them to cut the combat short before it can drag on.

He also takes from the alternate rewards section of the book. In what I assume is a boon, the spirit of a dead thief has entered the body of one of the character. The spirit’s presence confers a bonus to stealth and thievery skills, gives the DM an entertaining voice in the game and reveals a lot about the nature of the enemy. Can a pair of magical boots on the ground do that?

Enticement

The adventure is based around a clan that has wronged the fighter’s family in the past. The clan owns an artifact of great interest to the magic. They also have great stores of mundane riches which are very appealing to the group’s cleric/CEO. Right in the setup Chris has engaged three of four players. Almost the whole group wants something that speaks to their personalities. It makes things more interesting and eliminates the meta-gaming idea that the party just stays together because it makes the game work.

The Endless Fight

It is a frequent criticism of D&D that the game is all combat. Well Chris Perkins apparently takes that as a challenge. The party spends more than an hour interacting with a broad range of NPCs before their first combat of the session. Despite it likely being irrelevant to the game, the NPCs all have distinct quirks, voices and mannerisms. Even when the group engages in combat, the enemy has a name, background and personality. He banters with the party and has clear objections and emotions in the combat. He is a real character that they fight, not just a bundle of hit points and attacks.  Even if your group loves combat, you can still put the RP in RPG. Who doesn’t love some good trash talk?

The Visibility of a Skill Challenge

This session has the first skill challenge of the entire series. The party is sneaking past a sleeping dire boar mount. While I didn’t find it a very engaging skill challenge in context, it answers a question. One of the most common debates about skill challenges is if you tell your players that they are in one. Chris does not. Just like a DM does not go around saying the hitpoints or attack bonuses of his monsters, why should you tell the players how the mechanical underlay of a non-combat encounter. That is for the DM to worry about. In my opinion the DM should be like a magician. You never reveal your secrets. As soon as the player knows how it was done then the whimsy is lost.

Do you listen to the exploits of Acq Inc? What dio you think of the DMing? Have you ever pulled a rabbit from your hat during the game?

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nerd Watching: Learning From Acquisitions Incorporated!, 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

 

 Comments

7 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Learning From Acquisitions Incorporated!”
  1. WhitDnD says:

    While only listening briefly to some Acq Inc. (i’ve put it on the to do list when i have the time.) Everything i’ve read about has given me a geek/DM crush on Chris Perkins. It seems that his ability to blend combat and role playing is masterful.

    That being said i love to reward players with odd prizes when they “fail” certain things. Sending a player on a decade long trip to the Planar Chaos that happened in the blink of a material plane eye with an artefact weapon in tow was the result of a lost battle with a powerful lich. I hate running my combats with kill/death objectives, sure it happens but not my focus.

    Finally, i’ve got a house rule version of skill challenges going at the moment so it doesn’t match perfectly with 4ed, but announcing Skill Challenges works better for me so far. Toying with some Mouse Guard stuff which may change it all though.

    Thanks Nick

    Whit.

  2. Listening to this podcast really felt like for the first time he wasn’t just reading from one of the Wotc adventures but actually took some time to focus in on the players and adjust some of the story to be more focused around them. Something I myself as a DM need to work on.

    I did enjoy the DM using the ghost on Binwin to give himself a way of describing more to the players in game as well as us the listeners.

    Most of what is being said and done in these podcasts are great material to improve other games.

  3. Saragon says:

    I do indeed listen to them; more interestingly, so does my non-gamer wife. Tycho, Gabe, Scott, and Wil are simply hilarious to listen to. It’s good stuff — subtle suggestions on how to make tabletop gaming fun. Chris is especially good, I think, at introducing subtle details that flesh out the PCs’ surroundings.

  4. Ben. says:

    “Despite it likely being irrelevant to the game, the NPCs all have distinct quirks, voices and mannerisms.”

    Why would this be irrelevant? If he’s creating mood and setting, introducing characters that might later have purpose? Even if he’s just trying to create immersion? This offhand comment doesn’t help the “It’s not just combat” cause.

    -Ben.

  5. Noumenon says:

    The party spends more than an hour interacting with a broad range of NPCs before their first combat of the session.

    In the first combat of the session, the players need to get their opponent to open a magic door for them.

    Could you give the name of the session, (I wish it were possible to just link to them!) because I haven’t any idea which one to listen to to hear what you’re talking about.

  6. Nicholas says:

    @Ben: The characters have a purpose, but a character’s speaking mannerisms or drinking habits will likely not have a point in the larger plot. It just makes the world larger than the party, which is awesome.

    @Noumenon: It’s sessions 1 and 2 of the third series:
    http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4pod/20090828
    http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4pod/20090904

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  1. […] has a reputation as a great DM even among his peers at WotC. Back in September I wrote an article analyzing his DMing style through the podcast. Well, now I can do much better. A couple of months back I was invited to be a player of one […]



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