Jasper (William) Cartwright is a Freelance Producer, Podcaster, Actor, and Motion Capture & Performance Capture Performer.
Chad talks to Jasper about his podcast Three Black Halflings, which is committed to discussing diversity and inclusion within fantasy, sci-fi, and nerdy culture from the perspective of three people of color, what it's like to be in the space, and why representation is super important.
- Follow Jasper (William) Cartwright on LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out his website at jasperwcartwright.com.
- Follow thoughtbot on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Become a Sponsor of Giant Robots!
VICTORIA: Hey there. It's your host Victoria. And I'm here today with Dawn Delatte and Jordyn Bonds from our Ignite team. We are thrilled to announce the summer 2023 session of our new incubator program. If you have a business idea that involves a web or mobile app, we encourage you to apply for our 8-week program.
We'll help you validate the market opportunity, experiment with messaging and product ideas, and move forward with confidence towards an MVP.
Learn more and apply at tbot.io/incubator. Dawn and Jordyn, thank you for joining and sharing the news with me today.
JORDYN: Thanks for having us.
DAWN: Yeah, glad to be here.
VICTORIA: So, tell me a little bit more about the incubator program. This will be your second session, right?
JORDYN: Indeed. We are just now wrapping up the first session. We had a really great 8 weeks, and we're excited to do it again.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. And I think we're going to have the person from your program on a Giant Robots episode soon.
VICTORIA: Maybe you can give us a little preview. What were some of your main takeaways from this first round?
JORDYN: You know, as ever with early-stage work, it's about identifying your best early adopter market and user persona, and then learning as much as you possibly can about them to inform a roadmap to a product.
VICTORIA: What made you decide to start this incubator program this year with thoughtbot?
DAWN: We had been doing work with early-stage products and founders, as well as some innovation leads or research and development leads in existing organizations. We had been applying a lot of these processes, like the customer discovery process, Product Design Sprint process to validate new product ideas. And we've been doing that for a really long time.
And we've also been noodling on this idea of exploring how we might offer value even sooner to clients that are maybe pre-software product idea. Like many of the initiatives at thoughtbot, it was a little bit experimental for us. We decided to sort of dig into better understanding that market, and seeing how the expertise that we had could be applied in the earlier stage.
It's also been a great opportunity for our team to learn and grow. We had Jordyn join our team as Director of Product Strategy. Their experience with having worked at startups and being an early-stage startup founder has been so wonderful for our team to engage with and learn from. And we've been able to offer that value to clients as well.
VICTORIA: I love that. So it's for people who have identified a problem, and they think they can come up with a software solution. But they're not quite at the point of being ready to actually build something yet. Is that right?
DAWN: Yeah. We've always championed the idea of doing your due diligence around validating the right thing to build. And so that's been a part of the process at thoughtbot for a really long time. But it's always been sort of in the context of building your MVP. So this is going slightly earlier with that idea and saying, what's the next right step for this business?
It's really about understanding if there is a market and product opportunity, and then moving into exploring what that opportunity looks like. And then validating that and doing that through user research, and talking to customers, and applying early product and business strategy thinking to the process.
VICTORIA: Great. So that probably sets you up for really building the right thing, keeping your overall investment costs lower because you're not wasting time building the wrong thing. And setting you up for that due diligence when you go to investors to say, here's how well I vetted out my idea. Here's the rigor that I applied to building the MVP.
JORDYN: Exactly. It's not just about convincing external stakeholders, so that's a key part. You know, maybe it's investors, maybe it's new team members you're looking to hire after the program. It could be anyone. But it's also about convincing yourself. Really, walking down the path of pursuing a startup is not a small undertaking. And we just want to make sure folks are starting with their best foot forward.
You know, like Dawn said, let's build the right thing. Let's figure out what that thing is, and then we can think about how to build it right. That's a little quote from a book I really enjoy, by the way. I cannot take credit for that. [laughs] There's this really great book about early-stage validation called The Right It by Alberto Savoia.
He was an engineer at Google, started a couple of startups himself, failed in some ways, failed to validate a market opportunity before marching off into building something. And the pain of that caused him to write this book about how to quickly and cheaply validate some market opportunity, market assumptions you might have when you're first starting out. The way he frames that is let's figure out if it's the right it before we build it right. And I just love that book, and I love that framing.
You know, if you don't have a market for what you're building, or if they don't understand that they have the pain point you're solving for, it doesn't matter what you build. You got to do that first. And that's really what the focus of this incubator program is. It's that phase of work. Is there a there there? Is there something worth the hard, arduous path of building some software? Is there something there worth walking that path for before you start walking it?
VICTORIA: Right. I love that. Well, thank you both so much for coming on and sharing a little bit more about the program. I'm super excited to see what comes out of the first round, and then who gets selected for the second round. So I'm happy to help promote. Any other final takeaways for our listeners today?
DAWN: If this sounds intriguing to you, maybe you're at the stage where you're thinking about this process, I definitely encourage people to follow along. We're trying to share as much as we can about this process and this journey for us and our founders.
So you can follow along on our blog, on LinkedIn. We're doing a LinkedIn live weekly with the founder in the program. We'll continue to do that with the next founders. And we're really trying to build a community and extend the community, you know, that thoughtbot has built with early-stage founders, so please join us. We'd love to have you.
VICTORIA: Wonderful. That's amazing. Thank you both so much.
CHAD: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots Podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Chad Pytel. And with me today is Jasper William-Cartwright, Game Master for hire, Actor, Creative Consultant, Podcaster, Co-Host of The Performance Capture Podcast, and Co-Host of one of my favorite podcasts, Three Black Halflings. Jasper, thank you so much for joining me.
JASPER: Hey, no, thank you so much for having me. And, man, with that intro, I almost feel...
JASPER: I almost felt...I was like, oh, I feel cool. Those are some fun things. [laughs]
CHAD: I almost started with a Heeello robots.
CHAD: But it doesn't really have the alliteration that hello Halflings does, so...
JASPER: Sure. I don't even know how the hello Halfling started. Like, I'm going to have to go back and listen to some of the earlier episodes again because I genuinely have no idea how it happened. And now it's gotten to a point where it's unyieldy. Every episode, I feel like I have to get a little bit further and a little bit higher. And I'm like, this can't be good for people's ears, so, [laughs] yeah.
CHAD: So I know what the show is, but in your own words, what is the Three Black Halflings Podcast?
JASPER: The Three Black Halflings Podcast is a show which is committed to talking about diversity and inclusion within fantasy and sci-fi, and sort of anything that nerdy culture touches, we try to cover it from the perspective of three people of color, what it's like to be in the space, and why representation is super important.
CHAD: I want to talk about the origin of the show and how you got started. But I was introducing someone to the show previously because I try to tell everybody I can about the show. [laughter] I've noticed in the beginning when you started, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit, like, we can dive into this stuff and educate people. And over time, you've introduced actual play where you're playing Dungeons & Dragons on the show. And I think it's changed a little bit, and it's still great.
But I always also recommend people go back to the beginning. And I think a lot of the episodes are sort of timeless. They're not about the news of the day. They're diving into particular topics and discussing either the impact or the problems that they have or how to play them better.
JASPER: Yeah, definitely. I think you're absolutely right. It's been a weird thing where because we've become more popular and we're kind of more in tune with the TTRPG space; I think that typically what has happened for us is that we've spent less time really digging around for, you know, what's some stuff... all the things that we can explore. And we're a lot more kind of like, what's the beat of the moment? If that makes sense. And I think that's why we haven't done as many episodes like that.
And also, just because we...I just think that the audience is changing. And the way that people consume our content is changing. It tends to go in cycles for us where we'll do a batch of very topical episodes then we'll do more really nitty gritty kind of game design episodes. And so I think a lot of it does depend on the sort of moment, what's going on. There are still a bunch of episodes that we have planned. And obviously, we have the Halfling University series which is coming out currently, which is a more retrospective look back on poignant things throughout the history of nerd [inaudible 3:11] and nerd culture. So I like to think there's a good variety on there.
CHAD: Obviously the show, especially I think when it started, had a very heavy focus on Dungeons & Dragons, which I love. People who know me [laughs] know that I love Dungeons & Dragons.
CHAD: And I've been playing it for a long time. And as someone playing it since I was a teenager, I didn't realize until I got older and learned a lot more...and certainly, the show went a long way to sort of educating me about how not only the origins of some of the tropes of fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons but just in general how to have inclusive play.
When you're playing with a group of people, and to bring it back to a non-Dungeons & Dragons specific thing, this is true, I think, in any group of people. When you're surrounded by a group of people who look the same as you, are from the same area, have the same experiences, you don't realize what's missing from that table, and that's true in our companies, and it's true around a TTRPG table too.
JASPER: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that's the same for a lot of us. I remember doing a big post after I'd been doing the show for about six months, and it was just like, I was very open when I started the show that a lot of what I wanted to talk about I wanted it to be a safe space for me to explore some of these things.
Because I grew up in a very White middle-class area, and therefore I had a lot of the blind spots that I would see my friends of color call out my White friends for or whatever it may be. And so I was like, okay, it's time for me to educate myself. And I wanted to do it in a safe space, in a place where I could learn from great people. Obviously, we had other co-hosts of the show who are fantastic people, but we had things like sensitivity consultants and people like that come on.
I always like to shout out James Mendez Hodes, who, if you ever want to do a bit of a deep dive into fantasy...and you said, Chad, the historical basis for some of the stuff that we use, and he wrote some really incredible stuff. And so a lot of it was about me trying to educate myself as well and kind of put in that work. I thought there was a value there in doing it in an open forum in sort of saying, hey, I'm a person of color, and I'm also trying to figure this out, you know what I mean?
JASPER: Because I think that a lot of the time, the barrier for anyone who doesn't belong to a minority group is like, oh, man, I don't want to burden someone else with my own understanding of this thing, and I don't want to ask the wrong questions. Or maybe I don't even know where to begin in educating myself. And so there was something about the three of us and me particularly kind of being very open about the fact that we were learning about this too and that there might be things that...mistakes or things might slightly be out of place but that we have that openness and willingness to learn.
And I think that in today's internet culture where everyone is so kind of reaction-based, it just felt important to me that we had a space where we could sit in and talk about stuff and really be open with each other in a way that we knew we'd all be able to shake hands and be like, cool, that was a good session or whatever [laughs] it was today, and not be like, I hate you, you know what I mean? Because someone had made a mistake, or misspoke, or something like that.
And I think you're absolutely right. It's something I've started to do a bit more of recently, which is doing diversity and inclusion talks and coaching for companies because I think a lot of the lessons that I've learned through doing this show, especially around things like language and how you set up a work environment to suit people of color and more generally, minorities, it's a slightly continuous pursuit in the sense that you always have to be kind of open and learning.
And I think also it provides a...what I think is best about it is that it provides such richness to your work environment. We always say on Three Black Halflings that we want you to take these things and use them to enhance your game. Like you're saying, if you have the same people with the same experiences all the time and that's all you ever hear, then, of course, you're going to get a pretty one-sided experience. And then, if you expand that out to include people from halfway across the world who have a very different experience, they're going to see things differently.
And I can almost guarantee there'll be a problem that you and your team have been stuck on for like months, and someone from a different perspective will come in and be like, boom, there's the problem, or that's how we get around it because they have a different frame of reference to you. And so I always try to...it sounds really awful to say sell it, [laughs] you know, not trying to sell diversity and inclusion, but I always want to try and go further by saying it's not just about getting different faces in the door. It's about enriching the work that you do and allowing your team to do the best work that they can.
Just the quantity of difference between the kinds of things like games that I used to run, you know, to link it back to Dungeons & Dragons, versus the games that I run now, just having had this wealth of influence from other people and different experiences is incredible. And I think it holds true for every element of my work. So I work as a producer a lot in lots of creative fields as opposed to just podcasting. And it's improved tenfold just by having a diverse group of people that I draw from their experiences in my pursuits. So I think it makes a big difference.
CHAD: I think it's the idea that you wanted a safe space, and so you created a public podcast on the internet.
JASPER: Yeah, I can see how that sounds now.
CHAD: I assume that you've had to navigate being in public spaces talking about diversity, inclusion. I'm sure that that has been difficult at times.
JASPER: Yeah, for sure. I think just to clarify that as well, [laughs] because I am definitely aware of how it sounds, I've always been a very, like, I don't care attitude, you know what I mean?
JASPER: In the sense that I felt like I needed what I was going to make, if that makes sense. What, I guess, I meant by a safe space is I wanted people to have the safe space of listening to it. I was getting the safe space as far as I was concerned because podcasts aren't a reactionary medium, which is lovely. So thank God your audience isn't sat here just saying everything that you said wrong and correcting you. People are probably shouting at me for stuff that I've said already on this episode. [chuckles]
So it's definitely a fine line, like you said, to put something out on the internet. It's a very, very public thing to do. But it definitely just felt like, for me, creating somewhere where people could just disappear a little bit and encounter these things in a way where they're not going to be called out, or they're not going to be kind of threatened. There's no risk of cancellation or whatever if you say the wrong thing or whatever it is. It felt important.
And yeah, we've had to deal with...I will say this; it's kind of tricky to sum up the things that we've dealt with because I think a lot of stuff is still so systemic in the sense that just even down to the opportunities that you get and things like that where you kind of go like, huh, they started in this space like two months ago, and they have twice the followers we do. And they're getting loads of money for doing these streams. [laughs] And you're going to go, like, hold on, what's going on here?
CHAD: Yeah, there are three people on this show. They have ten times the Patreons that we do.
JASPER: Yeah, exactly.
CHAD: Why might that be?
JASPER: Yeah, exactly. Exactly that. And that's one side of it. And then, to be honest, the most it's happened...and this is quite a recent thing, which I don't even think we've really spoken about on the show was the reaction to the...so for anyone who doesn't know Dungeons & Dragons, there was a recent controversy where Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast threatened to repeal part of the license, which allowed creators to freely kind of use elements, not all of them, but some elements of the Dungeons & Dragons game and the Dungeons & Dragons IP for content basically.
And they wanted to repeal it, and they wanted to start bringing in more checks and balances in terms of what you could and couldn't do. And they wanted to start taking cuts of the profits and all this kind of thing. And anyway, the reaction was, as you can probably imagine, not great. Us content creators are ostensibly the lifeblood of this game, especially in terms of its online presence.
So we ended up getting the opportunity to interview one of the executive producers at Wizards of the Coast, and we put it on our YouTube. And it's hilariously one of the most viewed pieces of content that the Three Black Halflings has, full stop. And the reaction is so strange because you have people that get super angry at this guy for being corporate, and this and that, and the other. And we were like, okay, that's fine. So that was the first wave of reaction.
Then it was like, he's a racist against White people. And we were like, whoa, okay. And then it turned into you're racist because you didn't call him out for being racist against White people. And then, eventually, I think it just found its way to the trolls who are now just being openly racist about it.
So it's a very strange dynamic of seeing that play out in terms of it literally depending on the amount of people that listened to it, do you know what I mean? It didn't hit troll numbers yet, like; it needed to be more popular to hit troll numbers. So part of me does wonder if we just haven't quite got to peak troll numbers [laughter] with the main podcast. I'm sort of readying myself with a spear and a shield, so I'm like, okay, trolls are coming.
CHAD: It's like a double-edged sword. You want to be more popular but at the same time, hmm. Part of what I'm getting at is I think the work you do, even if you take sort of systemic racism out of it, the reaction to diversity and inclusion topics out of it, it's not easy to be an independent content creator, then you add that on to it. So how do you keep going? You've been doing it for three years now. What's your day-to-day like? How do you keep going at it?
JASPER: I mean, the rewards are just huge. I got to go to the Dungeons & Dragons premiere the other day. I went to a party in the Tower of London and had people coming up to me. Everyone knew who I was at the Tower of London at a party in the Tower of London. And when I say Tower of London, I want to clarify that it wasn't a function room attached to the Tower of London.
JASPER: We were in the Tower of London. I was having champagne, sipping it next to Henry VIII's armor.
CHAD: [laughs] Amazing.
JASPER: It was absolutely wild and being there and people coming up to me and being like, "We love what Three Black Halflings does. We think it's a really important voice in the community. And you guys absolutely like..." you know, because I was sort of like, oh God, I can't believe we're here or whatever. And people would be like, "No, no, you absolutely deserve to be here. It's so important that you guys are here." So I think that has a huge impact.
People in the community, the way that we've been embraced there's so many shows and so many people who are creating content that are working so hard who don't have nearly the platform that we have. And I think that is, A, a testament to us and the hard work that we put in. But it's also a testament to just how important what we're doing within the community is.
And I still don't really think there is a facsimile for Three Black Halflings in the industry in the sense that we're a talk show. We talk about heavy topics a lot of the time, but we do it with a smile on our face. And we try to laugh as much as humanly possible, you know what I mean? Because the whole premise of this show was that Black joy can be a form of protest. So we wanted to be like, hey, we can talk about serious stuff without having to cry and feel crushingly horrible about it, you know. [laughs]
And I think I guess that's how I feel whenever I feel like I want to cry or feel crushingly horrible about my workload or how hard it is to make the show is that I go, this is kind of the point, you know what I mean? This is why we got into it because I think that this is going to make it easier for someone else to do the same thing or someone else do something even better, and that, for me, is incredibly rewarding.
But I will caveat all of that by saying we've started to generate some money through ad revenue and Patreon, everything like that. And it's actually...this show has given me the opportunity to leave my full-time day job, which was still kind of creative. I was working in animation before this. And I loved that job, but now I get to be my own boss.
And it's been a really steep learning curve learning how to do work-life balance when you're your own boss because you're like, I could really disrespect my time here, you know what I mean? [laughter] I can get a lot done today. And I go, no, I have to spend time with my fiancée. I have to eat food. I have to sleep. I have to drink water. I think a lot of the process has been about that.
And I think, especially recently, I've gotten much better at kind of giving myself that work-life balance, and that makes it a lot easier for me to carry on. Because I feel like we've gotten to a point where I can be honest with the community as well and say, "Hey, we're having a late episode this week because there are some kinks with the edit," or something. [laughs] And people are just like, "Yeah, it's fine."
So I was actually having a consultancy session for someone yesterday. And one of the big things I kept saying to them was, as a content creator, you have to realize the world is not going to crash and burn if you don't hold the standards that you've set for yourself. Because the chances are your audience has much, much lower expectations, and that's not because they don't think you can do it. It's just because they understand that you're human, and they want you to do well, you know what I mean?
So if ever I feel like, oh no, Three Black Halflings has really messed up, I'm like, this episode sounds terrible. And we put it out and, ugh, and I'm there twisting myself into knots and making myself feel horrible. And then I go to the Discord, and everyone's like, "Oh, that sounded a bit janky. Oh, well, I'm sure they'll sort it out." [laughs] It's just like, it's absolutely fine.
So taking pressure off of yourself, I think, is something that I think is really important if you're trying to pursue, especially if you're trying to start out in pursuit of something like this because, yeah, it's super easy to drown yourself [laughs] in all of the kind of stress and anxiety about putting content out.
CHAD: You mentioned ads, and you mentioned Patreon. I think it was...was it last year that you joined a podcast network?
JASPER: Ooh, it would have been a year before.
CHAD: A year.
JASPER: So I've been with Headgum, I think, for nearly two years now.
CHAD: Wow. What sort of prompted that, and what does being part of a network give you as a podcast?
JASPER: Hell yeah. Joining a network ostensibly is just like joining a kind of family of other shows. I guess the closest equivalent really is sort of having your show picked up by Netflix or a broadcaster or something like that. It's sort of like you're bringing your show to that family. And then the most common thing...every network is obviously slightly different and will have different kinds of support structures that they offer certain shows depending on the money they generate, all that kind of thing.
But the most common one is effectively; you are now in a group that can all support each other and can all benefit each other by doing ad swaps because ad swaps typically is the absolute best way to improve podcast performance, mostly just because the user journey is super simple. It's like, hey, do you like the sound of this podcast? Well, the link to it is in your description. You have to click twice. You have to go into the description, click on that link, and then hit subscribe, and you're done. That's all you have to do, and it will be there. And you know it'll automatically tee up in your feed and all that kind of stuff.
So things like pod swaps and everything like that are by far the most effective for spreading the word about your show. And it also just helps you really hit specific target audiences where you go; we have great metrics that we can see of like, the average age of our listeners, how they identify gender-wise, music they listen to typically, what the average Three Black Halflings listens to. I think when you roll all of that information together as a part of a network, you have a huge bank of data, which they can then use to kind of market you in the best way and push you out in the best way.
And then, on top of that, most networks will have some sort of ad revenue like sort of system or tech, I guess, is probably the best way of putting it. And certainly, for some networks, they almost run like tech companies, how I imagine tech companies run. You're probably about to tell me, "A lot better." [laughs]
CHAD: Don't worry about it. [laughs].
JASPER: But, for instance, Headgum has Gumball. So Gumball is their ad sales sort of site, which has software which allows you to basically...everyone can go, and you can book ads just by looking at the podcast, seeing how many downloads it has; again, it has a breakdown of demographics and things like that that you can look at to see if that will marry up with whatever product you're pushing out. And then that will automatically set up a prompt for me to then read the script, upload it, and then that will put a dynamic ad in the middle of an episode, however many episodes until a certain amount of impressions are delivered.
So, again, that will be very unique and different depending on which network you join. But ostensibly, I'd say those are the two main things is pooling of resources amongst a family of different podcasts and then some sort of promise of ad revenue or ad sales. Most of them also have an ad sales team where they'll go and hunt out more specific spots for your show.
So, for instance, we just got sponsored by, I think it was Penguin or maybe Random House. Actually, maybe it's Random House who are publishing three little additional books to go in and around the Dungeons & Dragons movie. So we just did a little ad for them. And that was, again, the sales team kind of going out and being like, oh, we can see that you're looking for advertising places. Why don't you come and advertise on this Dungeons & Dragons podcast? [laughs] So yeah, stuff like that, I think.
Those were, I'd say, the main areas, and then it'll kind of depend...some podcast networks will help with editing. They'll have almost like a house style. So they'll sort of...they'll say, oh, we'll do the editing for you because we want to marry up all the shows so that they have a similar sound
CHAD: Is Headgum doing some editing for you and not on other episodes, or…?
JASPER: No. Headgum pretty much does...one of the best things [laughs] about it is we have an incredible sound designer; shout out to Daniel. He's actually one of the sound designers of God of War, if you can believe that.
JASPER: He's won several awards for sound design. He basically has almost like a little side hustle, which is him and a group of his friends who do podcast editing for Headgum. He does our main shows and our actual play shows. They were like, "Oh yeah, they can help you out with your actual play shows." And then me, as the incredibly stressed-out producer that was also having to listen to multiple hours of my own voice a week, went, "What about the main show as well?"
JASPER: And they were like, "Yeah, fine." [laughter] I was like, "Thank you," [laughs] because I can't bear listening to myself. I don't mind editing, and I'm not bad at it. But listening to my own voice is not on my list of to-dos. [laughs]
CHAD: It sounds like, overall, that being part of a network has been positive for you.
JASPER: Yeah, hugely.
CHAD: That's awesome.
Are your engineers spending too much time on DevOps and maintenance issues when you need them on new features?
We know maintaining your own servers can be costly and that it’s easy for spending creep to sneak in when your team isn’t looking.
By delegating server management, maintenance, and security to thoughtbot and our network of service partners, you can get 24x7 support from our team of experts, all for less than the cost of one in-house engineer.
Save time and money with our DevOps and Maintenance service. Find out more at: tbot.io/devops.
CHAD: Let's talk about...I'm making the assumption...I didn't dwell too much at the beginning of the episode that people understand what Dungeons & Dragons is, but maybe that's too big of an assumption. But it just seems so much more popular now [laughs] than it ever had before. So I feel like I can at least say Dungeons & Dragons to people, and people are like, even if I don't actually know what it's like to play, I know what it is, at least now. [laughs]
JASPER: Yeah, yeah, you got an idea of what it is. Yeah, for sure. [laughs]
CHAD: But let's maybe, at this point, take a little bit of a step back. And Dungeons & Dragons is more popular than it has ever been before. I think that that's really exciting for creators like you because it must feel like there's more opportunity than ever.
JASPER: Yes, yeah, absolutely. And I think that...so this actually, I think really ties into something that I've been doing a little bit of research on, which is...I can't say too much at this point, but I'm putting together a convention. Part of the idea behind this convention was that I've noticed there's a really big trend towards experience-based entertainment. We love movies. We love going out to bowling, all that kind of stuff. But real full immersion-based experiences, I think, are...post-lockdown, everyone's like, yes, give me all of that. I've been cooped up in a house. I want to be whisked away as far away as possible.
And so I do think that is part of the reason why Dungeons & Dragons has started to become even organically more and more popular. Because I just think the idea that instead of, I don't know, just sitting around on a Friday with some friends talking, or just watching a movie, or whatever it may be, that you can kind of with your friends go off and take part in something that feels epic and larger than life and really allows you to abandon for just a couple of hours some of the strains and pressures on your life.
I think, again, post-lockdown, that just feels like such an appetizing thing [laughs] to be able to do. And I just think with then the general acceptance of nerdiness as mainstream culture; people are just a lot more willing to be like, well, if I'm going to watch a movie with a dude who has a suit made entirely of iron and says really corny lines and shoots laser beams out of his chest, I probably could be okay with pretending to be a goblin for half an hour.
JASPER: Whereas I think before, people would have been really like, no, no, no, we don't do that. I only watch, I don't know, Kubrick movies or something. Do you know what I mean?
JASPER: Like, that's their form of entertainment.
CHAD: Yeah, that trend really resonates with me. Even before the pandemic, escape rooms and that kind of thing were becoming really popular.
CHAD: I mean, there are escape rooms everywhere now. [laughs]
JASPER: One of the things that I found out as I was coming up with the idea for this convention...I was talking to a buddy of mine, and he basically owns an event space, which has a cinema in it, and it also has a little theater. And he ran over; I think it was last summer, a "Guardians of the Galaxy" themed kind of experience where you walked around, and you got to meet some of the characters and stuff like that. And then next door in that building, they were showing the "Thor: Love and Thunder" movie.
And despite the fact that the experience was three times as expensive as the "Thor: Love and Thunder" movie at the cinema, that experience sold out almost instantly. And the "Thor: Love and Thunder" movie was struggling to get people on the seats; you know what I mean? But I was like, but "Thor: Love and Thunder" is a Guardians film, you know what I mean? All of them are there. It's ostensibly a "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie, and yet people are going to see a "Guardians of the Galaxy" experience, which I don't even know if it was like an official thing...rather than seeing the movie of it.
So I just think, yeah, like you said, this trend for escape rooms and all that kind of stuff just really resonated with me that I was like, yeah, that's...like, if I had to choose, if I was in a privileged position and could afford to go to that thing, I'd be like, pssh, yeah, I'd probably go to the "Guardians of the Galaxy" experience rather than just, eh, I don't have to watch the film. I could probably get it on Disney Plus in like two weeks, so...[laughs]
CHAD: Yeah. Have you ever been to a secret cinema in London?
JASPER: Yes. I did "Top Gun: Maverick" Up here in Manchester.
CHAD: [laughs] I went to the "Star Wars" one a few years ago.
JASPER: Nice. How was that?
CHAD: I guess, actually, it would have been five years ago. It was amazing. So for people who don't know, secret cinema is you're ostensibly going to see a movie, [laughs] but they build up an entire experience with improv actors themed to the movie that you're seeing, and you don't know where it is. It's technically a secret. They send you the location of it. You go there, and you're whisked away into the world of the movie.
JASPER: Yeah, I did a "28 Days Later" one. [laughter] Yeah, that was one...
JASPER: Yeah, that one was a little much, honestly. [laughs] I was like, I love this movie, but I don't feel safe sat in this cinema [laughs] because I've just walked through three fields filled with zombies and I ran for half of it. [laughs] So, I don't know, I was like, my heart was still racing as I sat down to watch the movie, which I think in many ways, did enhance the experience because I was sort of looking over my shoulder for half of it. [laughs]
CHAD: And when people who haven't ever actually seen Dungeons & Dragons played before, I often describe it as we're just telling a story together. Or maybe if they're a little less intimidated by improv because some people are into it, it's like an improv show where you can basically do anything you want or say what you want to do. And then you roll the dice to see whether it actually happens or not. And that's really at the base level all it is.
JASPER: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. [laughs]
CHAD: And I think you're right; people are more open to that idea of an experience or a game like that than they ever have been before.
JASPER: Yeah, for sure. There are so many things that you can kind of fall back on if you're not someone who is super comfortable with improvising or whatever. And I think that's what the game provides is it provides enough structure for you to then just kind of, honestly, because, you know, you do just kind of forget that you're doing it really after about 10 minutes of slight awkwardness when you start with a new group because the game provides you with almost like the fuel. You'll be like, oh, I don't know if I can do this or whatever. And it's like, okay, just go ahead and roll me a d20. And then you roll in that 20, and everyone loses their minds around the table.
JASPER: And suddenly you're like, okay, I'm in this. I'm the barbarian, and I'm getting angry. And I run in there, and I kick the door down, you know what I mean? And suddenly, you're sat there watching this person who was super nervous five seconds ago stood up on their feet screaming at me as the DM telling me how they eviscerate all these bad guys. So yeah, definitely, the game provides a very good structure for that.
CHAD: With this...you mentioned building this experience for a convention. Do you want to talk more about that?
JASPER: Yes, I can talk about it in very broad terms. I just can't go into the specifics of when, and the whos, and stuff like that. But ostensibly, the idea was to do a...I got really interested by this idea of reclaiming fantasy. It was kind of like this thing that kept going around in my head. And I was like; I wonder if there's a way that we could see our...again, specifically geared towards minority groups. It's what I know well and a community that I want to continue to serve.
And I was like; I wonder if we can create a space where it's specifically for them, explicitly for them in the sense that I think there are a lot of spaces that are explicitly for non-minority groups, you know what I mean? I think a lot of the traditional conventions typically are those things. But I think we get very afraid of creating something where we...people with the purse strings usually go, oh no, you can't exclude people, and I'm like, we're not excluding people. We're just making it very specifically for someone else.
And a lot of it was...it then came from the idea of seeing "The Rings of Power" trailer get released. And then the thing that's trending on Twitter is like; there were no black elves, not yes, we've got a black elf, you know what I mean? And I suddenly was like, I really want us to have a space where we can be celebrated in fantasy, et cetera, without having to have that caveated as like seeing it as some sort of diversity hire or whatever.
Anyway, this snowballed through going to things like D&D in a Castle and combining it with this idea of reclaiming fantasy of, like, what if we did it inside of like a stately home or a castle? What if we made this event and we really made it that you as a minority can be there and celebrated in the space where you've got, like, Baron, what's his name, on the wall?
JASPER: And it's this White dude from 500 years ago, do you know what I mean? And it's like, I just really loved the idea of a room full of minorities really feeling welcomed and like they were a part of this space, and just realizing minorities we've been around forever, you know what I mean? [laughs] There's never been a point in human history where people with Brown skin haven't been here. We've always been here.
So I guess it was just about really realizing that when we sat there watching, I don't know, Pirates of the Caribbean, and there's like two Black people in the swamp. It's like, no, no, no, no, we would have been everywhere, [laughs] do you know what I mean? We would have been everywhere. And we can be celebrated in these spaces too. These don't have to just be White spaces, and they don't just have to be for a very specific group that they have been traditionally for in the past. [laughs] And yeah, the reaction to this sort of pitch, if you will, was overwhelmingly positive.
CHAD: That's good.
JASPER: And it really took me by surprise, actually, because I was sort of thinking, yeah, I'm really sticking it to them with this pitch.
JASPER: And then everyone was like, "Yeah, we love it." And I was like, oh, right.
JASPER: Okay, yeah. [laughs] I was sort of doing that, and I had to climb down a little bit and be like, okay, awesome. Let's talk about it. What I think is really exciting about that it's just that I really think that conventions and everything can do more in terms of delivering experience. Like myself and my fiancée went to Comic-Con a couple of years ago. And I remember her feeling like, oh, it was just a little bit flat. And it was just sort of...I thought that there'd be more kind of grandeur to it, almost like there'd be more...it was just other than people cosplaying; there wasn't a lot of theater to the whole thing.
It was just like in these massive warehouses, and add a little bit of that theater in, have some of those actors, have some of the music and the sound and everything, really give people a place to go and explore and enjoy exploring. And I kind of keep thinking in my head it's like LARP lite, you know what I mean?
JASPER: It's like LARP still with the kind of commercial interaction that you can still go and meet your favorite people. You can still get signings. You can still get previews of things. You can still buy things that you've been wanting to buy all year and that you can only get when you go to a certain convention, and all of the kind of normal convention tropes but really just explicitly labeling it on the bottle: this is for minority groups. Because I honestly think if we explicitly label it like that as well, we'll start to get away from a lot of the things that have plagued conventions for far too long when it comes to making people feel comfortable in those spaces.
And quite often, my biggest tip when it comes to diversity and inclusion with companies as well it's just like, put it on the bowl. Like, if you really believe it, have it front and center. Don't tuck it away in like a D&I bit on your website. Have it there so that everyone can see it. Everyone knows when they come to work with you; this is what you stand for. This is what you believe in, things like that, so...
CHAD: That sounds awesome. And it's a really good illustration of the idea which we've talked about on the show in previous episodes is that when you are used to being in the majority all the time, and that is the default, when something is being done that's different than that, it feels like you're losing something. It feels like you're under attack. That's a total natural feeling.
JASPER: Yes, yes.
CHAD: So it's like, that sounds like a great experience. I would love to experience that, and I'm being excluded because I'm White; that's not fair. But that's coming from a position of you've been in those safe spaces for yourself in a world that's been entirely tailored for you. So you haven't realized that you've had that all along.
JASPER: Yeah, absolutely. And the beauty of it is..., and this is where it's even better for people in the majority, which is that we have zero intention of making an unsafe space for anyone because that would be wild. So even the spaces that we create for minorities explicitly will still be safe for you as well, you know what I mean?
But I think, like you said, it's that reaction, which, again, I get it completely because, as I mentioned earlier, I was there. I've been there. I've been in a space where I suddenly go, oh, I'm part of the problem, and it feels horrible. Like, it's not nice, and it's a really challenging thing, which you have to be comfortable with, and I think everyone should be comfortable with it.
Whether you're a minority or not, everyone has blind spots. Everyone has biases. It's a huge part of human interaction. And honestly, in a modern world with the way that social media is, I don't think you can live without biases and without assumptions because you see new people, thousands of new people every day if you want to just by scrolling on your Twitter feed. So to be in this zen place of just like, I will accept everyone only on their merits, and I will not judge anyone would be impossible and maddening, I think.
So it's a perfectly normal thing to exist with those biases. The thing that we have to get better at is going, cool; I've got those biases. Now it's time to let them slide, like, to move them over there and to not get defensive if someone calls them out. Like, that's the trick. That's the magic trick. That's pulling the rabbit out of the hat. That's what you got to get comfortable with.
CHAD: Yeah, awesome. Well, I really appreciate the conversation, and I really appreciate you taking the time. I know that you get married in less than a week from now.
JASPER: I do. I do get married --
CHAD: So congratulations in advance.
JASPER: Thank you so much. Thank you.
CHAD: If we could just take a few more minutes at the end to maybe nerd out about the Dungeons & Dragons movie, which I know you went to the premiere for, and I just saw this weekend...
JASPER: Oh please, let's do. Absolutely.
CHAD: It was funny because I think you've said exactly how I left the movie feeling, which was they captured the spirit of what it's actually...like, it was just fun. And Dungeons & Dragons is fun in a way that is not like "Lord of the Rings" [laughs] or just super serious fantasy, right?
JASPER: Yeah, yeah. I can't even think of the last time we had a fantasy movie that was like, you know, other than, I don't know, "Your Highness" or something that was just like, I don't know, yeah, whatever that was, you know what I mean? Something that was like an actual movie and didn't take itself too seriously, yeah.
CHAD: Yeah, I'm so happy because you could have easily have seen it, like, no, we need to do something super serious and to compete against "Game of Thrones" and "Lord of the Rings" and all that stuff. And to feel like, you know, this was made by people who get it and represented what I love was really exciting.
JASPER: Yeah. And I think that what it did for me is I think it lays the groundwork for them to explore more serious places because now they will have that trust that they understand what it's like to be at the table and how to do that. And then I think this is where the real skill is going to come in for them to curate more of these which is like...that, I think, is the art of a really good DM. They can have you absolutely roaring with laughter one minute and then sobbing in like, you know, and it's like an hour's difference, [laughs] you know what I mean? Between the two places. And that's then the next step for these.
But I think this was absolutely the tone they needed to strike for this, especially for this first kind of outing. I think they really needed to say, hey, we get it. We understand what it's like, just displaying purely unhinged actions and things, which I think that's the bit that feels D&D for me is when a character...and I think I won't go into any spoilers, but I think you'll probably know the moment I'm describing when a very clear solution is laid out in front of you in big, green letters, for instance, and you choose to do something truly, truly unhinged and wild. Because that was what you decided you were going to do ahead of time.
It's such a D&D thing to do. [laughs] And I loved that. It was one of my favorite moments in the movie. And I just thought that perfectly encapsulates the nature of it and the thing that you don't get to see in "Game of Thrones" or whatever because you don't get the Nat 1s or the Nat 20s, I think in the "Game of Thrones." Everything's like 7 to 12; you know what I mean?
CHAD: [laughs] Right. Right.
JASPER: Everyone is relatively skilled, so they can't just, like, you know what I mean? You can't have the mountain versus the Viper, and the mountain just trips over a rock and brains himself on the floor.
CHAD: [laughs] Right.
JASPER: You know what I mean? Because that would be a Nat 1, but that would be ridiculous because the mountain is an incredibly skilled fighter, and therefore, it wouldn't work like that.
CHAD: Yeah, yeah. I found myself grinning throughout, aside from the moments where I was laughing, just like, oh, that's...yes.
CHAD: Just the whole thing about planning and how he's a planner.
JASPER: Yes. [laughs]
CHAD: Oh, that is so D&D. And just at the end, the way that that battle lays out, I just feel like it just captures everyone's act in the six-second increments in a D&D battle. And everything's happening all at once, and that's what that battle was like at the end.
JASPER: Yeah. And it also just props for like a really good magic fight.
CHAD: [laughs] Right.
JASPER: Like, I don't even know what the word is, but we have been convinced for years that Harry Potter had good magic, but no, he doesn't.
JASPER: Harry Potter has wand-fu, and it's terrible. It's like; it's not particularly pleasing. It's basically the same as "Star Wars." It's just like a little laser pistol type, piu-piu-piu.
JASPER: That's effectively what Harry Potter becomes. And then to see Bigby's Hand and spells like this be used in the ways, like, it was just so fun. And also, it really teaches the importance of flavoring your attacks and how much life you can bring to a game, to anything, by just adding that little bit more, like, that little bit of extra sauce on top.
I think Holger the Barbarian does a perfect job of this in the movie where she's always using improvised weapons, and the way that she fights it's, oh, it's very, very pleasing to watch. And you're sat there going, yeah man, barbarians are so cool. But half the time when you're in a game, you'll just be like, yeah, I run up, and I attack with my axe. It's like, no, give me more, give me more. Tell me how and why and stuff like that. So I agree; I think they did a great job. And I was also just grinning from ear to ear [laughs] during most of it.
CHAD: I feel like I could talk to you all day.
CHAD: But I really appreciate it. If folks want to either get in touch with you, we mentioned at the top of the show you are a Game Master for hire, and you do games remotely, right?
JASPER: Yes, I do. I do. I do.
CHAD: So where are all the places that people can find you, get in touch with you, book you, all that stuff?
JASPER: Heck yeah. If anyone knows about my GMing for hire, it's you. [laughter] You had me DM for you for, in total, like, 29 hours in the space of a week. [laughs]
CHAD: Yeah. So we brought Jasper and we had the thoughtbot summit where we got the company together in person and so Jasper came and he DMed two sessions with two different groups for us, which was awesome. And then I went to D&D in a Castle, which you mentioned earlier in the show. It's where you go to a castle in the UK and play D&D for three and a half days straight basically. It was an amazing experience and Jasper was an incredible DM.
JASPER: Thank you. And if anyone is interested in hiring me as a DM, like I said, I do consultancy, whether it be D&I consultancy or podcast to help you grow podcasts and things like that, or even just get started. Most of that information is on my website which is jasperwcartwright.com. You can find me on all social medias. I'm usually pretty good at responding to people in there, and that is just @JW_Cartwright on all of my social media. So yeah, go follow me, and I've got a bunch of really exciting stuff coming up, so it's a good time to follow me. [laughs]
You can subscribe to the show and find notes for this episode along with a complete transcript at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find me on Mastodon @email@example.com.
This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
Thanks so much for listening and see you next time.
ANNOUNCER: This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot, your expert strategy, design, development, and product management partner. We bring digital products from idea to success and teach you how because we care. Learn more at thoughtbot.com.Support Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots