The Loss of the Trials of the Twin Seas Pallet

Hello. Jon Here.

A few people have asked questions about this topic, and there are some heroes in the sorry tale which I would like to highlight. It also feels like a story that should be told definitively and in one place. So without further ado, the whole sorry tale of our missing Twin Seas pallet, in detail, for your reading pleasure. And once this story is told here, we can point to this post without having to retell the story. ever. again.

So! (Hwaet?) We successfully kickstarted the Trials of the Twin Seas, a collection of adventures for BEOWULF Age of Heroes. Thanks backers! We printed the books in Europe, and then shipped a portion of them to the US, to be sent on to Jacob to be processed and sent on to our US backers. We’ve done this before, and while we’re always a little bit on the back foot as a small fish, we historically team up with our friends at Nightfall Games to help with those costs and logistics. Our fulfilment partners at GMS Logistics bring all that together.

So the pallet with the Twin Seas US books, plus a load of BEOWULF Age of Heroes, plus a load of a|state books, was duly dispatched to the US. The total value was just under £25,000.

After the requisite voyage on a slow boat to America, the pallet arrived in the US with Last Mile Logistics, as planned. And they arranged to have it forwarded to Jacob. All good so far.

And then things took a bit of a weird turn. The shipment took A LONG time to be collected. And then A LONG TIME to travel to its destination. There was of course nothing we could do about this other than keep asking for ETAs.

Eventually we received word that the pallet had arrived in Florida, where Jacob is based. Which was great news – we set about finding out exactly where it was, and if actually hiring a van and sending Jacob to collect might speed things along. And then within the space of about an hour, the pallet wasn’t in Florida. Suddenly no one knew where it was.

This seemed very strange to us – we know these things are all scanned in and out of trucks and depots. Everything is barcoded. There’s no way it could have arrived, only to then vanish. We started to get a little bit suspicious and were receiving conflicting information from different parties. Confusion reigned.

The shipping company made reassuring noises, and said they’d find it. They weren’t sure what was happening, but it would be found.

It wasn’t found.

So then they were going to trawl through all their CC TV to find it. (This seemed odd. The barcodes would surely present a pretty clear picture of where it vanished?) This was the state of affairs for a few weeks. Things being in limbo made it very difficult to communicate to backers, which is probably one of the most annoying parts of the story. We didn’t really know anything that made sense to pass on.

Jacob was in touch directly with them, and made consistent phone calls to try and locate things. Likewise Chitin from Last Mile Logistics was constantly on their case.

After a while, the various parties involved started making noises about an insurance claim. And that it was a good idea to get that ball rolling. I made sure we wouldn’t lose the stock if an insurance claim was paid out, and then it showed up. (ha ha what a silly thought that seems to be now…)

Of course the shipment was insured. So many people have shared their deep wisdom along the lines of “but why wasn’t it insured?” or “but just claim on the insurance?”. Aside from being facile advice, to the point of rudeness, this shows a deep naïveté about how business to business insurance works in the shipping field, when working across national boundaries, as a small company.

Put very succinctly, the insurance company’s job in this case appeared to be to guard against paying out anything like the full value of the claim. Eventually, after investigators had completed a search, they offered us pennies on the insured value. Naturally we pushed back, and disputed this. We’d paid to insure the stock for the value of the stock. Not to horse-trade when the worst happened.

And then… the shipper declared bankruptcy. Which shouldn’t have thrown anything into confusion, but absolutely did. This was a major US shipper, and no one had seen that coming. So any thought of finding the pallet was now a waste of time. If it was in a yard somewhere having been put on the wrong truck? We weren’t ever going to know. The fight to get a decent insurance pay out continued. (and indeed continues…)

By this point things were getting a bit desperate for Handiwork Games. I knew we had to deliver those books – we had the stock in the UK, but getting it across the Atlantic would be very expensive, and take a long time. My personal honour said we couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Kickstarter until we’d delivered Twin Seas, and I didn’t want to do that: we’d made a deal with our backers, and they deserved their books. I cannot overstate how strongly I feel about this. Too many kickstarter creators bail on their backers when things get hard, and it’s not right. We promised books, and books there will be. You supported us, and we were going to damn well come good.

Meanwhile, time was passing, we had no stock in the US, our latest release which should have been a big deal, and was supposed to be going into US distribution was a non-event. This was very bad.

(It’s worth mentioning at this time that unlike most RPG companies of our size, and even bigger, as an ethical choice, we employ our core team, they get sick pay, holidays and monthly salary, and we pay their income tax and national insurance. They’re not freelancers. This means we have commitments to meet each month. Which is fine if things are going to plan. Less so when they are not…)

We had some tough discussions with our UK logistics partners. Things were not good for us, but our contract was with them, and the pallet had gone missing on their watch. They had helped us all the way down the line, but this was now getting very serious. I didn’t know if we were going to survive. At this point Mark Rapson of Nightfall Games and GMS Logistics stepped in. Mark is a friend, colleague and confidant, as well as a great support to us at Handiwork. We have a lot in common, and we share a lot of stuff. Mark personally undertook to honour the full value of the insurance claim from his own pocket. This was an incredible move on Mark’s part, and one for which I will be forever grateful. They would continue to fight for the insurance money, but we now had the funds to resend most of the US parcels direct from the UK.

This wouldn’t be the cheapest way to do it by any manner of means, but it is the most direct, it was in our hands which felt very important at this point in proceedings. I wanted to pack them, I wanted to post them, and I wanted to know it was done. Even if it cost all the money plus significantly more. We’d been working round the clock to raise that money myself, so between Mark’s help and the Handiwork team’s absolute dedication to a lot of overtime, we had the means.

And then out of the blue, came a complete hammer blow. One night I found a bunch of the stock on eBay… and then a bunch more… and then more. A collection of sellers in the US were selling brand new copies of a|state, BEOWULF and Twin Seas, each listing 10 or more copies. You could even see in the product shots on eBay, these products were being sold out of warehouses full of random goods. Presumably all from “lost” pallets?

Customers were contacting me asking for a free pdf to go with their eBay purchase…

The books weren’t lost in some backwater, having been mis-delivered, their barcode stickers, peeled off and blown away by some whimsical wind-squall. Someone had stolen that pallet and sold the goods on it.

Now, not only were we late delivering to our US backers, but other folks could buy discounted copies online. We were in the unenviable position of directly competing with people selling our own books at a discount price, when we had next to no stock in the US at all.

For me this was almost the end of the line. I was exhausted, but I could cope with the idea that things go wrong, stuff in transit goes missing sometimes. That’s life. I like to think I’m fairly resilient to the slings and arrows. But theft? Theft? This was extremely hard to take, and I came very close to the edge on all this.

We contacted Last Mile Logistics, and this is where their guy – Chitin Proctor – really steps to the fore. Chitin was all over this. He clearly was not going to take this lying down. He contacted the FBI. They weren’t interested – too small. He contacted various members of local law enforcement. They weren’t interested – too someone else’s problem. (This to me remains unfathomable).

Undeterred, Chitin made some moves himself. All entirely legal actions, to be clear (of course!) but not without risk to himself, and some pretty clever stuff. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because investigations are on going.

Eventually, armed with more evidence, Chitin managed to get the attention of the one law enforcement officer who was willing to care. We know his name, but I’m not sure we can share it. Showing an admirable level of concern for the law, he promptly drove to the nearest warehouse selling the goods and got instant results. We now know where those goods came from, and the Ebay seller very kindly returned some of the stock to us. Which I think is amazing. They didn’t have to… (or did they? We don’t know what was said by that wise and handsome police officer, but I’d prefer to imagine kindness and empathy on the part of the Ebayers.)

I really never thought we’d see any of it again, but it happened.

Meanwhile back in the UK, after earning and borrowing the extra cash we needed, we had done it. All the missing US parcels were replaced and dispatched. It wasn’t the fastest process, it certainly was not the easiest, but it’s done.

Even now we have a handful of returned parcels, or missing deliveries – something which does always happen, but they will get cleared up, those rewards will be sent for the third time, but they will reach all of our US backers. I know I made some mistakes in dispatch because I was just done in.

But that all brings us to now, and our campaign to raise money for KING BEOWULF. I can’t fault anyone in the US who is wary of backing us again after such a long wait for Twin Seas. But we never gave up, and I’m very grateful to the people who have not given up on us. And huge thanks to Jamie at GMS Logistics (who was brilliant throughout), Mark at Nightfall, and Chitin at Last Mile: we’ve made it to a place where we can go back to Kickstarter and ask for the support we need to mend our damaged ship and push forward to the next adventure.

And that’s the story of the Trials of the Twin Seas.

This was quite cathartic to write. Pretty dusty in here, eh?

(Helmet shown by Wyrmwick Creations)