So, that went fairly well. Let’s try another one.
“No! My beloved peasant village!”: The hero’s home town, city, slum or planet will usually be annihilated in a spectacular fashion before the end of the game, and often before the end of the opening scene.
Let me just say, I never saw Alderaan. I don’t know how beautiful a planet it was, I never sat down and had tea with any of the people who lived there, I really had no attachment to the place at all. When it blew up, I suppose I had a very similar thought to other people: “That was pretty cool.”
And now even the explosion was pretty lame.
Going down the list on TV Tropes, I never did have much concern for any of those poor sacrificed, burnt or butchered people in any of those movies – except that I thought Conan’s mom was pretty hot. I prefer not to see hot chicks beheaded in movies. In this case, however, it was done so artistically I am ready to make an exception.
My point is this. I am a character in your world, and you have just had my village decimated (though that doesn’t mean what people think it means), eradicated, eviscerated or expurgated ... why should I care? I didn’t grow up with any of these people as my parents, I don’t have memories of being picked up and soothed after stabbing myself in the foot with a sharp stick, none of them taught me anything about the Gods. Sure, Conan had memories like that, and I can reflect and relate to Conan ... but my character in your world isn’t the subject of a major motion picture and there are no important memory sequences between my character and his dad before his dad gets butchered by brigands. So why are you wasting your time trying to create this motivation for me?
Most of the time DMs are unsurprisingly ready to destroy towns, cities, kingdoms – whatever it takes to evoke an visceral reaction from their players. Now, this is not the sort of thing I am at all interested in. For me, it’s going to be pretty fucking hard to explain just where the hell Germany went – particularly as it is still there after tanks and bombers blew the shit out of the country from end to end for four years. Pieces of land, ethnic entities and so on are surprisingly resilient. Even cities. Want to guess how many times Rome was gutted by fire and pillaged? And yet the Coliseum is still there. Go figure.
In D&D, of course, there’s never anything left except a hole. Or a expanse of burnt field. There are never any survivors, as fire literally rained from the heavens and if the gods don’t want survivors, there are no survivors. That’s how it goes.
And still the players look at all this wanton destruction, and go “meh.” Or even better, “Well fellas, we’ll be drinkin’ Saturday nights at the next town over.”
But break a minor possession of one player, say an ‘egg-cup of mediocre healing,’ enabling an increase of 1 hp of healing per day if the player takes the time to soft boil an egg ... and the villainous cretin who “Done broke my eggcup!” will be pursued to the ends of the world. Players relate to things they, well, that they relate to. Personal, treasured things, often the cuter the better. That egg-cup will mean much more to them than a +2 sword, since +2 swords are a dime a dozen once you drop below dungeon level five, but where the hell are they going to get another egg-cup like that? “I loved that egg-cup,” the character will moan at regular intervals, until all the other players scream at them to shut up!
The destruction of the village/town/planet or what have you is a sign of dreaded overkill, and quite frankly evidence of a bad writer, who has failed to recognize that we actually don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the value of our country or hometown. Yes, we’re told we ought to do so, it is something we are propagandized to do ... and we probably would deeply regret having said entity blown all to hell. But this is something that doesn’t even translate very well into an alternative real entity, when it isn’t ours. Not living in New York, my sense of loss about the Two Towers is pretty much all second hand. I know there are people out there who miss them awfully; but for me, who has seen them on one occasion, the most it means to me comes when I see them in a movie made before 2001. I’m not connected to them in the way that a New Yorker is – and even though a New Yorker feels that I ought to be, just as I ought to love everything about New York simply because it IS New York ... I really don’t feel much of anything. I’m not even American, so I have trouble identifying with the whole “They attacked us!” mind set. Yes, they attacked Americans. They didn’t attack me.
It’s worse with fictional destruction. You want to destroy something fictional, you better spend more than a little time relating it to me, personally. I’m saying that a few establishing shots of Alderaan might have made a difference. It might have made the planet more than just a big ball.
Help me. Make the village my friend, first. Demonstrate its importance to me. Make me care. Otherwise, you might just as well leave the damn thing standing there.
And besides, it might not have occurred to you ... but the greater the permanency you establish with elements of your world, the greater the effect will be when, maybe years later, you do destroy that village. I may actually care by then.