Missing Midget…Found!

Most Pearl Harbor days I don’t learn anything new. The History Channel shows the same documentaries, news programs run essential the same stories, etc. Yesterday was different. I found out that one of the enduring controversies of the attack had been indisputably laid to rest.

Until recently only historians and WW2 nerds like myself even knew about the underwater component to the Pearl Harbor attack. In addition to the airplanes, you see, Japan had launched five midget submarines against the ships at anchor that day. Their mission was to penetrate through the torpedo nets, lay on the harbor floor until the air attack started, and then rise up and torpedo (in this order) aircraft carriers, battleships, and heavy cruisers.

The controversy regards the actions of the USS Ward, a destroyer whose crew has always claimed that they sank a small Japanese sub a full hour before the aerial attack. The crew maintained that they sent a shell through the conning tower and then depth charged the sub for good measure. They reported that they had sunk this sub right outside Pearl Harbor, but for reasons that remain murky this did not set off any alarms with higher command. So it was that the base was caught sleeping by the air attack an hour later.

For over 60 years, some people have disputed the statements of the Ward’s crew. They were inexperience, it was argued, and they didn’t know what they were seeing. No midget sub wreck from their attack was ever found either. Now, however, all that has changed. As you can see in this article, the wreck was finally located last year. And still visible after all these years is the shell hole in the conning tower that sank her, just like the Ward’s crew always said. The pictures and video footage are really something. The whole sub is intact, including the torpedoes.

That now accounts for four of the five midget subs (click here to see a neat diagram). None of the subs returned to the Japanese fleet and only one crewman survived the attack. I found an interest article from 1948 about the one survivor, who became Japanese POW #1 in the US.

The fifth sub remains elusive. A radio message was sent to the Japanese fleet 12 hours after the attack, but that’s the last that was heard from the midget subs. Last night’s episode of Unsolved History on the Discovery Network tried to prove that the fifth sub made it into the harbor and launched its two torpedoes at Battleship Row. If true, this would rewrite history a bit, since the midget sub attack is usually written off a complete failure. The evidence for this theory is an aerial photograph taken by the Japanese, which purports to show the missing sub on the surface during the attack and having just launched its torpedoes. The show was interesting and the evidence at least somewhat convincing. Unfortunately, the quality of the picture isn’t that great so the debate boils down to “is that blur in this photo a midget sub or not?”

Interestingly enough, the evidence that could have likely solved this question was sent to the bottom of the sea in 1942. During the Battle of Midway, the US sank four Japanese carriers and most of the Japanese footage of Pearl Harbor sank with them.

Now Playing

I’ve been procrastinating on doing some writing today (I’m mean, hey, it’s Sunday). I caught a puff piece about the new Battlestar Galactica show on the SciFi network. They spent a lot of time addressing the fact that Starbuck is a woman in the new series, which has apparently caused the rabid fans of the original show to go apeshit. I seriously don’t get it. They interviewed Richard Hatch, who played Apollo on the original show and tried for years to helm a new BG movie, and Hatch went on about how you couldn’t mess with characters from “classic science fiction” like Battlestar Galactica. Classic? I mean, sure, I watched it when I was 9 years old and all, but it was hardly 2001: A Space Odyssey or something. This was the show with Boxie and the robot dog, remember? If I can deal with Arwen stealing Glorfindel’s moment of glory in Fellowship of the Ring, surely the BG goobs can deal with a female Starbuck (and a female Boomer, who is also Asian; that was news to me). The actual show looks like it might not suck. I’m going to at least check it out.

Later, Nik and I caught the Tuxedo on Tivo (which had recorded it based on our other choices, thinking we might like it). I had very low expectations. Jackie and Jennifer “Boobs” Hewitt as undercover agents? This would surely be no Drunken Master 2. Even I was not prepared for how awful this was though. It’s so bad that the bad guys seek to eliminate the James Bond-like super agent with a terrifying skateboard bomb that follows his limo though the streets of NYC. It’s so dreadful that the big evil villain’s sinister plan is to gain a worldwide monopoly on bottled water. Yes, that’s right; in his terrifying reality you can only drink his water! Thank god Jackie gets a super-tech tuxedo that lets him do kung fu and impersonate James Brown. Awful, awful movie, and neither the stunts nor the fighting did anything to make it more bearable.

A Bigger Problem

I was over at EN World this morning and ran across a post that I think sums up the problem with the entire RPG industry. Here’s the choice bit:

Wow. Of my seven players, only three have even the PHB (and one is my husband). The rest just downloaded the SRD. It isn’t that they can’t afford it, and it isn’t that they don’t like spending money on their hobbies. Heck, they all have multiple sets of dice, custom dice bags, fancy leather or cloth bound players journals, etc. But no PHB

Certainly none of them would ever buy a setting book. One of them might conceivably buy a players guide to X class if he got really obsessed with his current PC.

I think this is entirely typical. Sure, there may be 3 million people playing a roleplaying game every month, but how many of them are actual consumers? You’d think WotC could sell at least 3 million Player’s Handbooks but the real number is closer to 700,000. And Dragon, the official you-can’t-this-material-anywhere-else magazine of Dungeons & Dragons sells somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 copies an issue. The number of gamers who will even buy a third party d20 product is even smaller. I’d guess less than 20,000 people regularly buy d20 books and look how many books come out per month.

When I was at WotC trying to get miniatures going, some of the business guys would always throw their market research numbers in the face of my team. “According to our research, only 400,000 people are miniatures gamers,” they’d say, “while up to 5 million are roleplaying gamers.”

I would respond, “Yes, well those 400,000 gamers spend enough money to make Games Workshop alone a 150 million dollar company, while your 5 million roleplayers will generate 15 million for WotC on a very good year.”

In short, we need to find a way to get every player of an RPG to at least get the core book or a player’s guide of some sort. Or start making dice bags, I guess.

The Adventure Conundrum

If you are a roleplaying game publisher, you have to realize is that, as a rule, adventures do not sell as well as other types of books in the current environment. My company is giving adventures one last shot with Black Sails Over Freeport, a 256-page mega-adventure that comes out next month. If that format doesn’t perform, I can’t see us doing much more in the way of stand-alone adventures. It’s too bad really, as our break out product as my Death in Freeport adventure, but the numbers are indisputable.

The accepted reason that adventures don’t sell is that there are more players than Gamemasters and thus more potential customers for player-oriented books. While this is undoubtedly true, that fact alone doesn’t explain the phenomena. Campaign settings sell better than adventures and they too are aimed at Gamemasters. The other factor to remember is that GMs tend to be more “bought into” a game and thus spend more money it than do players. Many players, in fact, don’t even have a have a copy of the game they play regularly.

All this got me thinking about a deeper reason adventures may not sell. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at RPG purchase patterns. Generally, there are three reasons why someone buys an RPG book.

1) It fills some need in their current campaign and it will be used as is or with minor tweaking.

Examples: “The PCs in my group are 6th level and I’m tired of making up adventures. Hey, Black Sails Over Freeport is for that character level and this’ll keep my campaign going to at least six months.”

“I’d like to add psionics to my campaign, but how to do it without upsetting the established continuity? Hey, I can have the PCs visit this Mindshadows setting and learn about psionics that way.”

2) They find the topic of interest and/or think at least some of the book is adaptable to their campaign.

Examples: “I don’t use Freeport in my campaign, but a book full of detailed NPCs is still very useful. I’m going to pick up Denizens of Freeport.”

“I like pirates, but don’t want to run a historical campaign. I think I’ll use some of the classes, firearms, and monsters from Skull & Bones in my campaign.”

3) They know they won’t really use the book, but think it’ll be an enjoyable read and/or it’ll help keep them up on the game’s current developments.

Examples: “I wouldn’t want to play an unholy warrior because they are evil, but the Unholy Warrior’s Handbook looks like a fun read.”

“I’ve heard so much about Book of the Righteous. I don’t need a new pantheon, but I’m going to see what all the fuss is about.”

Thus, I think one of the problems with adventures is that it’s too easy for purchasers to dismiss them from 1 and 2 above.

“I make up my own adventures, I’ll never use this.”

“This adventure is for 9th level characters and my group is 2nd level.”

And so on. While some adventures do come with source material to give them more utility, that material alone is unlikely to get someone to buy it.

So oftentimes, it devolves on #3: “I have no intention of running this but I want to read it.”

Do some people do that? Absolutely. Do some of them enjoy reading adventures? Without a doubt. However, I’ve come to think that a gamer with no intention of using a particular book will tend to buy a sourcebook far more often than an adventure and this may be the ultimate reason adventures are the poorest selling type of RPG product out there.

The Joy of Shelving

Although Nik and I have been living in our house for going on three years now, we’ve never really finished unpacking. There have always been boxes of unsorted stuff stashed away in corners. It’s hard to put things away when said things never had places to call their own. When I got laid off from WotC, it got even worse. See, I had a lot of stuff in my cubicle there. I had a D&D; library entirely separate from my own at home, so I wouldn’t need to shuttle books back and forth. I had lots of minis there, as I was usually given 24 of each new mini to distribute to my team, which never numbered more than half dozen anyway. I had boxes of collectible card games that other folks had left in the various “free” areas. In short, a ton of crap and I was expected to pack it all up and have it out of there the same day I was laid off. It took a station wagon and an SUV to fit the 25 or so boxes of stuff I hauled home and most of it went right into the garage. We haven’t parked the car in there since.

My dad has also slowly been sending me stuff I had stored back in MA. It took years, but I think I have it all now. Half of my comic collection arrived only a couple of months ago. It had been so long since I’d seen it I forgot what I had. Other boxes had books, more old game stuff, and school notebooks (which are pretty funny; amazing how many of them include army lists for Warhammer).

Then there’s the new crap that we acquire. When I first started going to game conventions as a professional, I used to actively seek to trade with other companies. Now, I don’t even have to try. A parade of people comes by our booth looking to trade at every con. I end up bringing home at least one box of new games and books from every show, whether I actually want them or not (I’m not mean enough to say, “No thanks, I don’t want your terrible d20 book”). We also have regular trades set up with some companies, so all their new stuff comes to my house. Yet more clutter.

Over the weekend, I was trying to come up with a new strategy. Part of the problem is that we have shelves, bookcases, and the like in all the obvious places but there’s still more stuff to put away. Saturday, I had an idea. I said to Nik, “You know the hallway to our bedroom is always half-full with cardboard boxes and other crap anyway, why don’t we get some low shelving units and put them there instead. We wouldn’t be losing any space, we’d just be recycling cardboard.” Nik not only agreed, she added, “How about looking into some corner units for the stairwell?” That’s my smart wife for you. I suggested we make a trip to Ikea on Sunday and she perked up. “Ikea? Wohoo!” Nik, she loves the Ikea.

So yesterday we headed over to Ikea. Got two bookcases for the hallway, two corner units for the stairs, and a little computer desk for Kate. Nik went to work putting together Kate’s desk as soon as we got home. Usually, I let Nik put together this kind of stuff, because she’s handy and loves a good project. This time though, I decided I was going to make those shelves my project. One Naked Raygun and one Pegboy CD later (yes, I was in a Chicago kind of mood), I had successfully put them together. Today, I scoured the house for wayward magazines, organized them by issue, arrayed them in holders, and loaded up the new shelves.

I know it’s totally mundane but it felt really good. I was able to take clutter out of nearly every room in the house and give it a proper home. And I still have some space left for incoming RPG books. Nik’ll be putting together the corner units soon and then truly a new day will dawn.