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The 8 people who made 'Dungeons & Dragons' cool just launched their answer to the game. Hasbro and its game empire should be very, very nervous.

Cheryl Teh,Chris Kaye   

The 8 people who made 'Dungeons & Dragons' cool just launched their answer to the game. Hasbro and its game empire should be very, very nervous.
  • D&D's most famous players have an answer to the game they've been playing on Twitch since 2015.
  • The cast of Critical Role launched the open beta for their new gaming system, "Daggerheart," on Tuesday.

Nerd royalty has spoken, and a new era of tabletop roleplaying games has begun.

Last year, people packed into a sold-out Wembley Arena to watch the eight-person cast of Critical Role play "Dungeons & Dragons." The team effectively brought the game out of nerd-dom and into the mainstream. But on Tuesday night, they took a break from the game that made them famous and launched "Daggerheart," their answer to "Dungeons & Dragons."

Led by game master Matthew Mercer, the team went on Twitch to give a four-hour live demonstration of its new gaming system. Thousands of viewers tuned in. It's not often that the launch of a new board game gets the airtime this one is getting: Critical Role has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitch, and the cast members have dedicated fanbases of their own.

"Daggerheart" comes with its own lore, magic, and monsters, but it's still built around classic role-playing game elements rolling dice, character sheets, and combat mechanics. The game also involves a card system that outlines a character's history and experience.

The cast also introduced their audience to a new slate of character types. Ever wanted to be a monkey with healing powers or a wizard who also happens to be a beetle? Yep, that's possible, since it's not just about elves, dwarves, and goblins anymore.

Critical Role CEO and core cast member Travis Willingham told Business Insider in September that the company's investment in Darrington Press — the publishing arm through which these gaming systems are being released — has been "incredibly exciting and rewarding."

"We were frankly just overjoyed with the response," Willingham said of the game systems' early playtest at 2023's GenCon. "A lot of this is us just kind of figuring it out as we go and giving it our best shot. And we know that won't always be enough, but when there's a positive reception to it, it's extremely rewarding."

While it's too soon to say how successful Critical Role's new launch will be, the "Daggerheart" open beta is a potential game changer for RPG fans.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of "Dungeons & Dragons" — a game that counts millions of people, including Elon Musk, among its fans. To celebrate the anniversary, Wizards of the Coast, the game's current owner, is launching One D&D, a codename for a new generation of the game, with updated rulesets and digital play options. This launch comes with a series of books, slated for release in late 2024, that can be used with the immensely popular fifth edition of the game — which Critical Role helped to popularize.

The release of One D&D was not without controversy. The previous edition's Open Game License, or OGL, allowed creators to publish and profit from work compatible with the game. Not so with One D&D.

In 2023, Wizards of the Coast tried to introduce a new version of the OGL that would require that independent creators — whose work helped the game's pop culture resurgence — report sales and give Hasbro a cut of 20-25% of sales above $750,000, Gizmodo reported, citing a leaked copy of the license.

In January 2023, The Motley Fool reported that while D&D provided 22% of Hasbro's annual revenue, it created 78% of its profit. The attempted cash grab associated with the new OGL caused prominent third-party publishers to balk, and they began working on their own systems. Fans revolted and vowed to burn the game to the ground. Hasbro went into damage-control mode, eventually spinning a reversal as a win for shareholders.

Fans of Critical Role might not see "Daggerheart" being played regularly on the crew's Twitch channel yet. But fans can play the game for free now, and it's undeniable that the open beta of Daggerheart poses a direct threat to the Hasbro-owned legacy brand. It's possible to rebuild your "Dungeons & Dragons" characters in "Daggerheart," and the complex capabilities built into the game allow for extended narrative-driven campaigns.

And there's a lot of money to be made here.

Hasbro did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI sent outside regular business hours.