While there are many influential podcasts in the realm of Dungeons & Dragons, by far the most recognizable is probably Acquisitions Incorporated. The show was conceived by Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, with D&D's Christopher Perkins hosting as DM, and a rotating cast of players filling the other roles (Patrick Rothfuss, Morgan Webb, and Holly Conrad being some of the most recent). The show has blossomed from 4th Edition gameplay in 2008, through the 5th Edition launch and expansions, transforming into a live show at PAX events and even creating its own spinoff show with The C-Team.
In May 2018, the show officially passed the ten-year mark, and while the frequency has slowed down with the primary show, it remains one of the most popular events at PAX. Before their most recent live show at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, we got a chance to sit down with Holkins and Krahulik to talk about the show, its impact, and where they're headed from here.
BC: So Acquisitions Inc. has been running for a decade. How does it feel having that kind of run and an influence on D&D?
JH: It's strange, because any time you're working online, trying to really assess the impact you have can be challenging. Because most of the time, online work consists of being very, very alone. Or maybe with one other person. It's a pretty intimate affair. But when you're here at the show and you try to get in, and you can't because there's physically so many people-
MK: That's when I realized it was a big deal when we did the first live show. It's like an audience of people watching us play theater. A podcast is where we're just recording something and then we send it out.
JH: Then somebody might say "hey I really like it like that podcast."
MK: But when you roll dice and you hear applause, that's crazy.
JH: That's a pretty wild experience. I mean, it's literally something that you played in a basement, like that's where this game was played when I grew up playing it. And now it's in The Benaroya. So there's definitely a narrative arc there for Dungeons & Dragons maybe.
Do you feel kind of like pioneers in that sense? Like, 5th Edition definitely helped as a whole, but the idea of you guys taking it out there during 4th Edition and showing a younger audience what Dungeons & Dragons was and what it could be and how to get involved with the game.
JH: It's possible. I mean, I've talked to people… I would say the story that I hear most often isn't from younger players necessarily, it's from people who thought that they had to give it up for some reason.
MK: Had to give it up or it really sort of missed them. You know, they saw it when they were growing up and they just weren't comfortable with it. They thought it was one thing and they kind of dismissed it.
JH: Yeah, I would say that as agents of recidivism, we definitely get a lot of people who are on the fence. We obviously introduce a brand new person to it, but I think that the person that we often bring in is somebody who played it as a young person and just stopped for whatever reason. Among other things, Acquisitions Incorporated acts like a "best practices", I think. It's a way to play it that you might not have originally guessed. Although from my perspective, most of the D&D games I've played eventually devolve into this kind of goofiness anyway. Even as a campaign even when I'm running The C-Team on Twitch, I've got very serious things to say. But that does not define the tone of the campaign at all, the players have a big stake in it too.
What are your thoughts on your characters, both yours and each others. Like, how they've evolved over the years and changed the story as it were.
JH: Well yeah, I would say especially the last couple of games have really focused on the relationship that they have.
MK: Between Jim and Omin.
Including some of the C-Team and stuff between them and The House.
JH: Oh definitely! When it comes to their relationship, one of the main jokes of AI is that… AI is really Oman Dran and then whoever he has with him. Whoever he has paid to be on that particular job, and you can see it all the time like with Strix or a lot of the guests there's usually some kind of a weird relationship. Especially between Viari and Omin where I think I gave him, not a raise, but a rank improvement.
You basically made him a full employee.
JH: Yeah, ultimately, but I think it took like eight years. For a while, it was like intern, and then he was a sub-employee, like whatever that means.
JH: Yeah, exactly! But his relationship with Jim at least it would appear from these last few games is different than that. Even if Omin would want to and would want to sort of establish a kind of division between them, as a practical matter, it's not true.
MK: We've talked about what a young Jim & Omin comic might be like for their early adventures of AI. When the two of them are just out of high school or whatever and they're meeting for the first time. I think that would be pretty funny.
JH: Yeah, so it's sort of canonical that Jim was the first hire and Omin was trying to present himself as a kind of adventuring magnate which was clearly not the case. The last few [shows] we've had a chance to sort of explore that relationship but, I really I really like Omin. I've had a couple opportunities to explore sort of a darker side of his personality relatively recently especially with the Jim clone type stuff. But we had a chance to when we were down in Australia to play Acquisitions Incorporated in Star Wars, because I had that sort of like ship captain vibe which is a little bit different. It's basically like space pirates or scoundrels smugglers. So I had a chance to really lean into the fact that somewhere inside Omin there is an amoral mercenary.
MK: You can tell when we first started playing and I started drawing him, my vision of him and how he looked was very different from yours. I saw him as this big intimidating-like brute, a hulk, he's got his nose busted a bunch of times because he just gets what he wants.
JH: He gets in trouble.
It shows off in Neverwinter.
JH: Definitely. It's basically lies upon lies to try to get people in so that you can feed them into these missions he has. Because it's in that game context and you're doing a lot of really challenging things for him. The Omin in the game actually does appreciate what the players are doing. I felt compelled, given the things that Omin is basically making them do. These are scary jobs. And so he takes a moment to appreciate that, largely because he wants them to do the next even worse thing.
And how about Jim?
MK: I love Jim. I think starting out with him as just a wizard, I just stated: "I'm going to be a Human Wizard." And then really sort of as I played, leaning heavy into the idea that Jim really doesn't want to do any of this. He's like a stage magician who likes illusions and likes entertaining people.
JH: He loves being famous.
MK: He loves being famous but Omin keeps bringing him on these missions. Chris has been cool enough to sort of really let Jim become famous.
JH: There are people who know Jim.
MK: Yeah, like that Lich
Of the New Hampshire Darkmagic's.
MK: Yes! They were fucked until I was like "I am Jim Darkmagic!" And Chris played it. It's like "Whoa, you let me have it." Jim has come a long way.
JH: It's funny. There's some really wild interpretations of some of the classic tropes but the basic idea of AI is that… Yeah, you have these numbers on the page and that system sort of maintains the gravity of the game and of the environment. But there is a lot of room inside those rules to tell really cool stories and do some really, really weird shit.
I always found it interesting watching the show, it felt like Omin was kind of a shyster who knew how to get what he wanted-
And he got a cut of the action at the same time. And it felt like Jim always wanted to do something else but he's like, "Well, he's making good money."
MK: Yeah, exactly! I don't know if being a street illusionist pays the bills. Jim absolutely likes money. He likes being famous, and I think Omin is a way to get a lot of coin.
JH: Well you're basically constantly on tour. I mean you're touring the world as a magician.
You've shrunken down the show now to where it seems you only do live shows now. There's not much pre-recorded or done in-studio. Is that kind of where you're going to keep the show or do you ever plan on going back to doing podcasts?
JH: You may well in the near future hear a podcast from what we sometimes call the A-Team, but the main stage show for Acquisitions Incorporated… The reality is that we're actually doing a lot of other work on Acquisitions Incorporated all year, it's just that it's not materializing in that like A-Game, for example. So if you look at like the Neverwinter thing, I mean, that took a few months to put together.
MK: I was a long job.
JH: We have other AI projects that have taken up months of time but they're not going to be announced until [PAX] Unplugged. So there's still just there's much more work.
MK: There's more work than ever! It's just not in the form of those podcasts.
JH: Exactly. It obviously seems like it's very meaningful to people. So what we'd like to do is provide more of it in different shapes.
You've brought Viari on, so Pat is practically now the new full-time member. And then you've kind of had this fourth spot that's open and rotating. Is there anybody you kind of are looking at or wish would fill that spot if a more permanent basis, or do you like it as a constantly rotating seat?
MK: I honestly love that it rotates. I feel like each person who sits there brings a very different tone to the table and they do really make it a very different show. I mean, there are people today as I was walking in coming down the line who are like "I can't wait to see you and Holly!" There are people who just like that interaction.
JH: Jim and Holly is a very… Again, if we'd had like a set team, we would never have found that angle because they are magic.
MK: Yeah, and Jim does not get ruffled, really. Right?
JH: No, like his whole thing is being cool.
MK: Being cool, and she's just way cooler than him!
JH: And remember K'thriss Drow'b. He was there, but it was like in an aspirational way, in a rivalry way.
MK: Like the older brother who had tattoos.
JH: He listens to heavy metal.
MK: He does! He's got that warlock clout.
JH: So it's possible there would be a permanent slot there, it's possible we could find somebody like that. But right now it's really fun because we've made a lot of friends over time and it's really fun to be able to have space to include really great performers that changed the feeling of the show.
We recently had the Waffles Inc. and crossover which was really awesome. But I think once that happened a lot of people instantly online were just like "So how long until the A-Team and the C-Team have a big crossover?"
JH: That would not be difficult at all. We've proven with Waffles Inc. with Elyssa Grant and what she can put together from a project management perspective. In a couple weeks she can build a really incredible streaming weekend just out of thin air. It would not be difficult to do a crossover that was purely AI themed, it would be painless. It would be a heat, just A&C.
Yeah, that's one of those big audience ones, if you did that in front of a crowd. How insane would it be?
JH: Yeah, you could do that maybe like The Troubadour or something.
MK: Yeah, that would be fun.
JH: Just set up like two nights in a row, like two separate adventures.
MK: That'd be cool.
I know there's stuff you can't talk about yet, but what's the of the future of AI?
JH: Oh, I would say I would say look toward Unplugged, because there's going to be some big announcements there. You will be startled, and hopefully delighted, but mostly startled.
MK: And what they showed off from Neverwinter here at PAX is just a very small portion of what's really coming out.
JH: That content pops into your character's career all the way up to the level cap. So if you start playing the game, there's content that comes at you at different points all the way up to level 70. We wrote heaps of adventure missions for that game and most of it's not seen in that trailer at all.
Outside of PAX and AI, what are you two both working on in the near future?
JH: Plenty of other AI stuff but for me, sort of my weekly task, one of the big things that I do is the Acquisitions Incorporated: The C-Team Twitch show on Wednesdays. I mean there's a lot of preparation that goes into that. It's definitely the biggest thing that we have on our channel.
MK: I'm making the comic. Until something else happens-
JH: Yeah, we closed a bunch of projects.
MK: Yeah. We just finished a bunch of projects and they're all just now starting to get announced, so I sure have some slack again which is nice.