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The cast of Critical Role pictured against a rough-hewn wooden wall.
Image: Critical Role

‘The most direct way’ to support the D&D actual play troupe, creators say

The Critical Role actual play empire is expanding again. On Thursday, the group of Dungeons & Dragons-playing voice actors announced Beacon, a new membership program that promises to be “the most direct way” to support Critical Role. Beacon will offer “a wide range of exclusive and early access programming” among its member perks and, crucially, let Critical Role bypass third-party video services like YouTube and Twitch, where much of its content is streamed and hosted.

But Critical Role isn’t abandoning those platforms, its creators say. “Nothing changes for audiences on Twitch and YouTube,” Critical Role CEO and cast member Travis Willingham said in a video announcing Beacon. But the new members-only Beacon promises “a more unfiltered experience” for fans of Critical Role, Willingham said.

Beacon will cost $5.99 monthly, or $59.99 annually. Critical Role is currently offering a free, limited, seven-day trial.

In addition to early access programming and exclusive videos, Beacon promises live event pre-sales (which would hopefully help members avoid sold-out shows, scalpers, and surge pricing), instant access to videos on demand and podcasts, access to an exclusive Discord server, and discounts on merchandise.

Beacon will boast two exclusive series: Critical Role Fireside Chat, described as a monthly Ask Me Anything series where cast members answer questions from Discord; and Critical Role Cooldown, a “backstage pass” that promises to let viewers experience the cast’s post-show reactions. Beacon subscribers will also get early access to series Critical Role Abridged, a condensed highlight reel-style show, alongside all-ages actual play audio series Re-Slayer’s Take and day-and-date audio versions of the mainline Critical Role broadcasts.

Marisha Ray, cast member and creative director at Critical Role, said Beacon lets the troupe “bring more of our business in-house.” Less reliance on third-party platform providers seems to be a big part of Critical Role’s plan. “It’s no secret that video platforms have […] been through their ups and downs,” Ray said, adding, “it’s not uncommon for our content to get demonetized because we all have the vocabulary of teenage sailors.” Ray also acknowledged platforms like YouTube and Twitch running ads on Critical Role content “that don’t really vibe with our beliefs.”

Willingham mentioned another third-party platform: Patreon. He said Beacon will offer fans “a more direct line” to Critical Role’s content, cast, and community.

“We’re incredibly excited about what Beacon opens up for us, and how we engage with our audience,” Willingham said in a statement. “Nothing changes with how folks can watch our current slate of shows and we’re stoked to offer access, content and perks in ways that we never have before.”

Critical Role launched nine years ago as a web series where professional voice actors (Laura Bailey, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Matthew Mercer, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Sam Riegel, and Travis Willingham) improvise their way through D&D campaigns. Over the course of hundreds of episodes spanning multiple campaigns, Critical Role has evolved and expanded to include comic books, animated series, their own tabletop role-playing game systems, and other video spinoff series. The series’ creators say that Beacon will let them continue to invest in their franchises and business.

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