As I write this, a number of things have happened and some new stuff is on the horizon for my little game. The first round of Murders & Acquisitions playtesting has ended. I’ve reviewed the feedback and created an outline of rules revisions I plan to implement. Round two of playtesting will begin soon.
In preparation for this, I thought it a good idea to describe more about the tone of the game as well as the “world” in which M&A takes place. I touched on this a bit in the first blog post, but then went on to focus on the game mechanics for a few posts. Discussing these things here will also help me focus my efforts with the game system to modify it to help reinforce this tone and build the world. After all, I’ll be murdering a bunch of stuff in the game system and tweaking other things. Re-acquiring a solid feel for the other parts of the game will help me create a better game, I hope.
When I first described M&A to Dave, I referred him to Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. Remember the opening short film, before the credits, where a group of elderly office workers craft weapons and armor from office supplies and overthrow their younger, yuppie overlords? “Murders & Acquisitions is like that,” I told Dave, “except for the part about transforming your office building into a pirate ship and sailing it into the financial district.” Dave asked, “Why isn’t that part of the game?” I replied, “Well, it could be. Maybe that’ll be a supplement.”
M&A is not meant to be an overly-serious roleplaying game experience. It’s quite the opposite. The players and GM are encouraged to crack jokes, exaggerate their descriptions, take chances, make movie/TV/comic/etc. references, form ridiculous plans (and see them shattered), engage in over-the-top action, and just have a fun time.
The World of Murders & Acquisitions
I’ve stated often that M&A is set in an alternate modern-day earth where pretty much anything goes in terms of corporate dynamics. Want to move up the corporate ladder? You can sabotage your adversary’s pet project, destroy them socially, or just kill them and cover everything up.
While this description paints the world of M&A as consequence-free, it really isn’t. If the PCs murder someone, they can go to jail. If they sabotage someone’s project, they can face indictment or at least be fired. If they destroy someone’s reputation, they have to deal with the blowback. But if they’re clever when they do these things, they can cover up their actions to protect themselves. The world of M&A is one where this type of behavior is commonplace, perhaps almost acceptable, as long as they can cover it up.
The corporate structure of companies in M&A (where most, if not all, of the story action is set) supports this alternate real-world setting. Though, again, this corporate structure is strongly tinged with humor and a great deal of exaggeration.
Most of the workers at a company are peons and drones. These titles have rule system implications, but in terms of the world of the game, they’re just what you would expect. They are the workaday minions of the company. They’re the receptionists, office schlubs, data entry monkeys, IT drudges, and everyone else toiling in the corporate trenches. They have little to no ambition and would be perfectly happy doing their jobs, growing old, and earning a meager pension. But, they can be useful allies. There’s even a skill built entirely around acquiring and leading minions. If the PCs are clever, they’ll find many uses for these peons and drones.
The more ambitious employees at an M&A company are called shakers (as in “movers and shakers”). Shakers are looking for something more. They’re interested in climbing the corporate ladder to gain money, power, and prestige. They want it all. The PCs are, by definition, shakers. The most challenging adversaries the PCs come in contact with (and seek to overcome) are shakers, though these adversary shakers will certainly have their own drones and peons working for them. They have goals and plans to attain those goals, just like the PCs.
At the top of the corporate hierarchy are the CEO and board members. They’re in charge, and they got there by doing the same things the PCs are striving to do – taking down everyone who got in their way. They might come into conflict with the PCs in minor ways during various stories, only to be defeated at the end of an M&A campaign, when the PCs, hopefully, oust them and take over the company.
Floating in the midst of this corporate turmoil is an island filled with the members of Human Resources (HR). In M&A, HR is composed of a group of enigmatic lurkers who play their own internal chess games with each other, using everyone else as pawns. They don’t seek to take over the company. Instead, they are happy to manipulate the company and employees from within to attain their goals, which are a mystery. While the PCs cannot become members of HR (an insular lot they are), the PCs can gain some things from HR members. As the PCs undertake their projects and missions, HR notices them. In time, the PCs can gain the favor of one or more members of HR, which is tracked mechanically via a “favor point” system. The PCs can cash in these points for advice and favors. If they overdo it, though, HR becomes displeased and makes things more difficult for the PCs.
Security is HR’s strong right arm. Members of office security, while unsurprisingly providing security within the corporate office, are strongly influenced by HR, who uses them to keep people in line. That said, security members can be influenced by the PCs, even to the point of becoming true allies (just like peons and drones), as long as the PCs can keep these alliances under wraps from HR.
That’s the basics of the world of M&A. Though, I’m sure I’ll murder a few ideas and acquire newer, better, ones in my efforts to perfect the game.